Sleep apnea in children

San Antonio boy diagnosed at 2-years-old

SAN ANTONIO – Tina Barrera says her son, Gabriel, would snore as a toddler, but she did not think much of it. 

"I thought they were gurgles. I thought they were baby noises," Tina recalled. 

It wasn't until she took her then 2-year-old son to a doctor's appointment when one sound caught the doctor's attention. 

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"He was asleep and he started gasping when he slept. (The doctor) said 'Hold on, we're going to call in (another) doctor right now.' And I didn't know what was happening," Barrera said. 

Dr. Karen Hentschel-Franks specializes in pediatric sleep medicine and was called in to help Gabriel. He was taken in for a sleep study and Barrera said her son was diagnosed with extreme sleep apnea.

"I was scared. It's basically they stop pretty much breathing," Barrera said. 

"Usually with children, the primary treatment is taking the tonsils and adenoids out," Hentschel-Franks said.

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can lead to blocked airways and surgery can fix the problem. After Gabriel underwent surgery, Barrera said the procedure made her son's sleep apnea less severe and provided relief, but it didn't completely fix the problem. 

The search then began for the proper CPAP machine. 

"There's not a lot of masks out there for children so it was really hard," Barrera explained.

Now 12-years-old, Gabriel still sleeps with a CPAP machine but he said it's helped him sleep better. His mother said she's also seen her son's grades and concentration improve in school. 

"He is not overweight. He's an active child. He runs. He moves. He wasn't the criteria you would look for in sleep apnea, but he has it," she said..

Hentschel-Franks says on average, about 600 sleep studies for children are conducted a year within the University Health System. The doctor estimates about 150 of those young patients test positive for sleep apnea. 

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