Tonsillectomy improves boy’s sleep, grades, sports

This time last year, 12-year-old Robert Heimerman’s grades and sports playing abilities were hovering around average. He got mostly Cs and ran in the back of the pack during football. Now he is getting mostly As, and has added basketball, baseball and track to his repertoire.

  • Friday, May 30, 2008 10:00am
  • News

Editor’s note: This article has been modified since its original publication.

This time last year, 12-year-old Robert Heimerman’s grades and sports playing abilities were hovering around average. He got mostly Cs and ran in the back of the pack during football. Now he is getting mostly As, and has added basketball, baseball and track to his repertoire.

The difference? His family and doctor think it is the coblation tonsillectomy he had on Feb. 18.

“I had more energy,” Robert said. “I could go to sleep faster. It used to take an hour to fall asleep. I would just stare at my lava lamp.”

Sleeping seems to be the key to Robert’s improvement.

Before the surgery, Robert snored and had trouble staying in a deep sleep. None of his doctors however mentioned that his tonsils were enlarged, his parents say. When the family moved to Issaquah a few months ago, Robert visited a new doctor. But it wasn’t until Robert’s dentist mentioned his tonsils that the Heimermans even knew anything was wrong. The dentist recommended that Robert see an ear, nose and throat specialist, so the Heimermans took him to Dr. Lisa Mulligan, whose office is in downtown Issaquah.

During Robert’s mid-winter break from school he had both his tonsils and adenoids removed. His tonsils were about the size of walnuts, his parents said.

The Heimermans said they saw a difference almost immediately.

In about one week, he had stopped snoring and getting him up in the morning was much easier, said his dad, Tony Heimerman.

“His overall attitude changed,” Tony said. “He’s not as cranky.”

The Heimermans kept Robert home for two weeks since he is very active at school, however, Mulligan said the typical recommended recovery time is one week for school and two weeks for sports.

Robert was back to a normal diet by the third day, and they attribute the quick recovery to the new kind of tonsillectomy.

Since then, he has started getting better grades and his teacher has even recently sent a note home complimenting him on finally putting forward the effort she knew he could all along.

He is also now running in the middle of the pack at his baseball practices and both Robert and his parents say one of biggest changes is in his increased stamina.

“People underestimate the value of sleep. It’s hard to perform when you haven’t had adequate rest,” Mulligan said.

Sleep interruption can occur dozens of hundreds of times a night, she said, even when the sleeper is not aware of it.

“Enhanced school is something that you’d expect,” Mulligan said. “Similar with sports. It all goes back to the sleep pattern.”

Mulligan uses a relatively new technique for the surgeries called coblation tonsillectomy, involving radio frequency. This technique doesn’t cause any trauma to the surrounding tissue, which leads to a faster recovery. It is not yet a universal technique since the equipment can be cost-prohibitive for many hospitals, but Mulligan said she has been using the technique for about four years.

Just like Robert’s family, many people don’t even realize that they may be in need of a tonsillectomy, a growing concern for the medical community, Mulligan said.

However for anyone who does undergo the operation in the future, Robert offered a bit a advice.

“Run a lot after the surgery,” Robert said. “Cause otherwise you’ll get really bored.”

For more information on tonsillectomies or tonsils and adenoids, visit

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