Colombe M. Nicholas' Story
Colombe M. Nicholas, an executive in the fashion industry in New York City, learned about National Jewish Health as a supporter at benefit dinners that were hosted by leaders of the New York fashion industry. Years later, when she needed expert care for a lung infection, she knew where to go.
In 2005, Colombe, her husband and a few friends underwent full-body CT scans as preventive screenings. “I was hoping the results would give me a benchmark of my health to use in the future,” she said.
The doctor who did the CT scan said that he noticed spots on her lungs, and he asked if she had pneumonia as a child. He also suggested that she share the results with her primary care physician.
Colombe wasn’t concerned about the results of the CT scan because she had no symptoms. “I was an atypical case,” said Colombe. “I was living an active lifestyle without any problems, and I never had a cough.”
Given the controversial nature of full-body CT scans, Colombe’s primary care physician initially downplayed the results. However, six months later when Colombe returned to her primary care physician for a check-up, she was surprised when he said that she should go to a pulmonologist about the spots on her lungs.
The pulmonologist, David Kamelhar, MD, conducted a sputum culture and scan of her lungs and found that Colombe had a lung infection called Mycobacterium Avium Complex (MAC). He suggested an aggressive treatment regimen of antibiotics for 18 months.
“It was a miracle that it was caught so early,” said Colombe.
MAC, a germ related to the tuberculosis germ, is not contagious and is believed to enter the lungs or body through air, water or soil. Most MAC patients cannot pinpoint when they may have been infected.
In September 2011, National Jewish Health hosted two conferences to advance understanding of nontuberculosis mycobacterial infections, including MAC.
Colombe already knew about the expertise of National Jewish Health physicians in treating respiratory conditions. “I trusted my doctor in New York,” she said. “But I told him, I want a second opinion and I want to go to the best.”
Dr. Kamelhar scheduled an appointment with National Jewish Health physician and MAC expert Gwen Huitt, MD, MS.
Dr. Huitt recommended surgery to remove the scar tissue in Colombe’s lungs. After taking antibiotics and undergoing surgery, Colombe showed no sign of the infection.
While at National Jewish Health, Colombe also underwent genetic testing and learned that one of her parents had a dominant gene for cystic fibrosis, which made her predisposed to developing lung problems.
Colombe received annual checkups and had no signs or symptoms of MAC for five years. “I thought after five years that I might not have to worry about it any more.”
MAC patients regularly experience recurring infections, however. Nearly a year ago, Colombe noticed that she was short of breath after running up the subway stairs. After visiting Dr. Kamelhar, Colombe learned that the MAC infection had returned. She is once again taking a regimen of antibiotics, this time for 12 months.
Dr. Kamelhar in New York is working in consultation with Dr. Huitt on this second round of treatment, and Colombe will return to National Jewish Health if needed.
“My experience at National Jewish Health was fantastic,” said Colombe. “It makes treatment so much easier to have the treatment, tests and doctors all in one place. Dr. Huitt is the best.”