Ottawa man regains sense of smell thanks to simple procedure
Published Thursday, January 7, 2016 8:19AM EST
An Ottawa man who spent nine years without any sense of smell is once again sniffing the air, the flowers and his food, thanks to a simple procedure developed by a researcher at The Ottawa Hospital.
Hubert Frenette developed sinus problems 20 years ago while working in New Brunswick. He developed severe nasal allergies, accompanied by growths in his nose, a condition called chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps.
Frenette underwent several surgeries to remove the growths, but while they would help for a time, the polyps continued to come back. As well, each surgery involved several days in the hospital plus a long and painful recovery at home.
About nine years ago, Frenette decided that the treatment was worse than the problem, so he resigned himself to a life of breathing through his mouth.
That meant that Frenette had to live with no sense of smell, as well as little sense of taste, since taste relies heavily on our ability to smell. And, because the polyps blocked his nose, he also had trouble breathing and sleeping.
Then, in 2014, Frenette started seeing Dr. Shaun Kilty, a researcher at The Ottawa Hospital who focuses on diseases of the nose, sinuses and skull base.
Dr. Kilty had developed a novel way to remove nasal polyps in the clinic without surgery. He uses a “microdebrider,” a vacuum-like instrument that removes the polyps without the need for general anesthesia.
The procedure takes only an hour, frees up operating rooms for other patients, and is significantly less expensive to the health care system than surgery.
"You're looking at procedure that costs about one-tenth to health care system what regular surgery costs,” Kilty told CTV Ottawa.
Frenette, along with nine other patients, recently took part in a pilot study on the procedure. He found that it was about seven weeks after the procedure before he could taste and smell again.
Other patients reported similar experiences, with 95 per cent saying they were fully satisfied with the procedure as it had improved their senses of smell and taste, had improved their sleep and their symptoms of chronic sinusitis.
Frenette says he can still remember the moment when he realized he could smell again. He was strolling down Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa one day with his wife when he suddenly realized he could smell someone smoking a cigarette in front of him.
Now, he's sniffing up all the smells he can. Frenette in a flower shop is now like a kid in a candy store.
“I’d walk by Tim Hortons – oh, smells like coffee! And then a woman would walk by with perfume, I would say, ‘Oh she smells good,’” he says with a laugh.
“I'm always sniffing because I'm amazed. Even after year and a half, (I’m) still amazed at the smells.”
Dr. Kilty says the nasal polyps will eventually grow back – they always do – though that could take anywhere between two and 20 years. In the meantime, he’s pleased that he and his team have found a procedure that can fix his patients’ problem easily, without invasive surgery.
Dr. Kilty is now applying for funding to conduct a larger, national study to see whether his procedure is as effective as sinus surgery.
“If it proves to be,” he says, “then this is the first step to adoption of the procedure across country.”
With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Joanne Schnurr