HONOLULU -- By using radiofrequency energy, pulmonologists at Tripler Army Medical Center are leading the way in the treatment of severe asthma in Army Medicine beneficiaries.

Dr. (Col.) Eric Crawley, chief, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, performed the first bronchial thermoplasty not only within the Army, but the State of Hawaii on April 12.

The Food and Drug Administration-approved therapy aids in asthma control in severe asthmatics, and may help the Army retain Soldiers who may otherwise be medically discharged.

The permanent procedure uses the radiofrequency energy to heat the smooth muscle lining in the bronchial tubes of the lungs decreasing the ability for the tubes to constrict, in turn reducing the occurrence and severity of asthma attacks.

The fairly new treatment is performed by a board-certified pulmonologist and consists of three sessions over the course of six weeks. The exciting option is directed at severe asthmatics who cannot manage their asthma well with medication.

So far, Crawley said Tripler has treated two patients using the therapy and are seeing encouraging results.

"In the near future Tripler Pulmonary Medicine is planning to perform a research study to determine if this technology may improve asthma control, so that service members with disqualifying asthma might be able to be retained on active duty," Crawley said. "The first patient completed his final treatment May 30 and the second patient (will complete) his July 25. Several other patients are in the pipeline."

Even though the therapy came too late to retain Spc. Thomas Richberg, food service specialist, 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command; and Crawley's first bronchial thermoplasty patient, Richberg couldn't be happier about being better able to manage his asthma.

The 26 year-old, who is originally from Savannah, Ga., developed asthma during a deployment to Iraq in 2007-2008.

Despite being medically discharged from active duty because of the severity of his asthma, Crawley called Richberg right away when he heard about receiving the grant for the technology.

As Richberg continues to plan for his future after his expected discharge sometime next month, he is excited as he prepares to attend culinary school in North Carolina.

He can literally breathe a little easier because of his experience at Tripler's Pulmonary Clinic.

"(After each session, staff from) the hospital's Pulmonary Clinic called to check up on me and still call (to make sure I am doing well)," Richberg said.

Even though the therapy is showing promising results, it is not a cure for asthma.

"(Patients will) still have asthma and they will still have to take their medication," Crawley explained.

Although it is still too early to tell how much the therapy will ease the attacks for severe asthmatics, Crawley said based on the first patients, the therapy's outlook is good.

"My hope is that if this is successful, we may be able to save tax payers money per patient (and) retain Soldiers who would have been otherwise separated," Crawley said.