A man like Hannibal Lecter.

Sports narrator Tapio Suominen, 56, compares himself to the legendary main character in the film The Sheep Sheep, played by Anthony Hopkins, when he places the face mask of a CPAP device that treats sleep apnea on his face for shooting.

Towards the end of last year, Suominen's jokes were low for several reasons. The quality of sleep had collapsed, and most mornings of the week, the man gathered himself in the corner of the couch with a coffee mug in his hand for a really long time to get his day off. Chronic fatigue lasted as a companion throughout waking hours.

- The feeling was that the motivation to exercise and fitness was pretty zero, Suominen says and claps his stomach, from which in the coming months he intends to lose about 10 kilos extra with a combination of diet, dripping and exercise.

Suominen knew that his good acquaintance and peer of the Tampere years, the musician Olli Lindholm, who died suddenly a year and a half ago, had suffered from an upper respiratory illness called sleep apnea in his last years, more or less causing sleep apnea.

- Olli's death was one of the reasons I wanted to find out if I suffered from the same disease. At worst, I almost woke up to the feeling of suffocation, my legs shaking, Suominen recalls.

He received a referral from a public health care specialist. The result of the sleep registration survey tinted and frightened:

- The sensors unabashedly said that there were about a hundred sleep apnea every hour. So I was out of breath and my brain without oxygen every hour for about 40 minutes. From that, everyone can then deduce the quality of sleep.

Tapio Suominen was diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Photo: Juha Tamminen

Diagnosis included: severe sleep apnea and immediate use of the CPAP device. Suominen has openly told about his illness and its treatment on social media. The motive for agreeing to the interview was clear:

- All stigma must be removed from the disease and its treatment. They are mundane things about large crowds that need to be talked about on a completely mundane level. In two months, the device has improved my quality of life more than I even dared to dream. Now, I’m going to carry my own card into the pile by dropping weight, which will relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Suominen says that the night before the interview, he slept a quality sleep for 8.5 hours. The night after the interview, it accumulated as much as 12 hours.

Currently, voice-retiring professionals who are retired on disability are employed by recording audiobooks, which are drastically increasing their popularity, as well as covering JJK's football matches on the newspaper Keskisuomalainen's online television.

- At first I noticed that when the device was blowing air into the larynx with overpressure all night, I was in the mornings like the legendary raspberry Harri Marstio. It worried me a little, but the voice adapted to it. This is no longer a problem.

Tapio Suominen photographed last year when his Sports Crazy biography was published.

Photo: Seppo Solmela

Some time ago, the prosecutor said that Suominen would not receive a drunk driving charge, which would have been the third. However, the criminal suspicion was found to be unfounded and the prosecutor made a decision not to prosecute the case.

- On the potential work front, news coverage was, of course, not any good news. I had given up the car’s alcohol interlock because it costs about a hundred a month. I will not give up anymore; those hundreds have suddenly been earned, Suominen says.

The death of Olli Lindholm blew up the number of referrals

According to international research, the number of people with sleep apnea is large: about 17 percent of middle-aged men and about 9 percent of women. The disease is usually associated with the patient being overweight, and the first instruction in health care is often permanent weight loss. There are also instructions for quitting any smoking immediately.

However, according to Eeva-Maija Nieminen, a specialist in lung diseases, the matter is not so categorical:

- I have met in my work very wide range of sleep apnea patients: men and women, young and old, of normal weight and obese. About two out of three are overweight, a third are normal weight, says Nieminen, who works as a ward chief in the pulmonary unit of Peijas Hospital at HYKS.

  • Read more: Recognize the signs of sleep apnea - every third patient is of normal weight

Although there have been “always” people suffering from sleep apnea, few people remember hearing about such a disease until a few decades ago.

- The disease seemed to be found in the late 1970s, when the first examinations and diagnoses were made. But it was pretty unknown then.

CPAP device on Tapio Suominen's bedside table.

Photo: Juha Tamminen

The significant increase in the number of diagnoses is related to several things: for example, population-level obesity, increased awareness, and easier access to diagnosis.

- Previously, the patient had to sleep in the hospital on a so-called sleeping mattress so that the diagnosis could be made. Thus, the diagnosis required a hospital site, so relatively few diagnoses were made. Now the sleep registration on which the diagnosis is based is done at the patient's home, in his own bed, Nieminen says.

Self-care CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices used to be bigger and louder, now very compact. The device keeps the airway open by supplying air with low pressure through a nose or face mask.

CPAP treatment does not cure sleep apnea, but even decisively alleviates its symptoms. As sleep quality improves, daytime fatigue and many other health problems caused by sleep apnea often go away. Exercise starts to taste better, which has its own positive health and weight management effects.

- Poor sleep quality is associated with, for example, weight gain and susceptibility to accidents. The direct deadly disease of sleep apnea is not: it is a misunderstanding. There is a safety mechanism in the human body that guarantees the opening of the pharynx, Nieminen says

Night legend Olli Lindholm, who died suddenly a year and a half ago, told the public about his sleep apnea and also about how he perceived the CPAP device on his bedside table as a cosmetic nuisance.

- Familiar story. But when you get used to the device - it usually takes from one night to four weeks - and you find that you are refreshed in the mornings, you no longer want to give it up, Nieminen says based on his patient experiences.

Although sleep apnea was by no means the immediate cause of Lindholm’s death, the admired musician still did significant public health work from time to time.

- His death was followed first by a flood of news and then by a flood of broadcasts. It was quite noticeable in pulmonary clinics all over Finland. It was important publicity and sharing of information about this disease, says Eeva-Maija Nieminen.

Tapio Suominen

Born: in Turku on 20.2. 1964, 56 years old.

Lives in Hattula. Divorced, one adult daughter.

Career: Studied at the Faculty of Sports Science of the University of Jyväskylä. Worked at Yle Sport as a commentator, studio host and journalist from 1988 to 2018, when he was laid off.

Health: At the beginning of the last decade, I became ill with bipolar disorder, which I spoke openly about in public.

Now: On disability pension. Engages in reading and exercise. The sport is preferably followed by basketball.

Written production: Column collection in the back room of Tapsa (2011) and biography Urheiluhullu (written by Lasse Lindqvist) 2019.