For over 40-years, Jan Penn has helped thousands of women and their families take care of themselves. The Nurse Practitioner from Highbridge devoted her life to caring for five generations of northern Wisconsin families, working up to 60-70 hours per week. But, like so many health care providers, she let some aspects of her health slide.
“I was having trouble losing weight and my blood sugar levels were starting to concern me,” she explains. “There were other signs as well, but it was easy to rationalize my way out explaining why I was tired.”
But then she got a FitBit, and it quickly became clear that some of her health issues were tied to something we all need—sleep. “I started to notice on my reports that were a lot of interruptions in my sleep patterns,” she says.
Penn knew a common reason for interrupted sleep was sleep apnea. And, that a simple, non-invasive sleep study could provide clarity and solutions as to why she wasn’t sleeping as soundly as she should. It had been something she’d been telling her patients for years. After undergoing a consultation with a physician, she decided to proceed with a sleep test at MMC.
MMC Faye Johnson, RRT, RPSGT administered the test. “When Jan arrived, we went over the process which includes multiple tests that measure everything from oxygen levels in your blood, heart rates and your sleep pattern.”
Patients generally show-up a couple hours before bedtime to get hooked up to the non-invasive equipment and go through this explanation of the process. From there, a patient has a space similar to a hotel room where they can do their normal activities such as reading or watching television. Once asleep, the patient is monitored by the sleep study team and the next morning, the test is sent to a physician to go over results with the patient.
It is a very casual atmosphere that allows for the patient and sleep study team to connect. “We enjoy some nice time together,” Johnson explains. “It is an opportunity for me to really get to know my patients and help them with something that’s a key piece of their life.” What many of them find when the test results come back is they have Sleep Apnea.
Johnson says a number of patients are hesitant to take the test due to experiences they perhaps had with their parents who suffered from sleep apnea. “Previously, there wasn’t always a good outcome to these tests. The treatment options just weren’t there and what was available was cumbersome, uncomfortable and loud. This just isn’t the case anymore.”
Today, there are over a hundred treatment options. The most common is a small mask, often referred to as a positive airway pressure machine (PAP). The more common forms of PAPs include continuous (CPAP) bilevel (BiPAP) and variable (VPAP). There are also dozens of oral devices on the market to assist with sleep apnea. The common goal among all of these treatments is to keep the sleeper’s airway from collapsing.
Following Penn’s sleep study, she learned she had a mild form of Sleep Apnea. She now uses a CPAP at night. And, in typical Penn fashion, she used this experience to help her patients right up until her retirement in January.
“We’re taught in healthcare to never reveal personal information. But, after I did it, I was able to share my experience and show some of my results with patients which gives them more information to make an informed decision,” she says. She also hopes it inspires them to take action to make a small change that can reap big rewards.
Today, Penn is sleeping with minimal interruptions at night. “I have more energy and I think more clearly throughout the day,” she says. “I’ve also noticed that I don’t have the afternoon slumps I used to get.” It has also been easier to lose weight and her blood sugars are stable.
While anyone who knows Penn, knows she was always a woman of high energy. She plans to direct this newfound energy towards spending time with her twin 10-year old granddaughters, engaging with the League of Women Voters and continuing to make a positive impact in the community she loves.
Sleep studies are performed via our Cardiopulmonary Department. To schedule one here, please seek a referral from your primary care physician.