Isabella Lenyo's Story

  • The Lenyo family.
  • Isabella Lenyo during a soccer game. Photo courtesy Lenyo family.
  • Photo courtesy Lenyo family.

“An extraordinary case that they could not solve.” For nearly six years, that is what doctors across the country told Julie and George Lenyo as they sought a diagnosis for their daughter Isabella’s recurrent bouts of pneumonia.

Finally, they found a doctor who shared their commitment to finding the root cause of Isabella’s condition. This extraordinary dedication would lead the family to National Jewish Health, and a definitive diagnosis.

Isabella’s respiratory problems began when she was just a few months old. For the next six years, she was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia and other respiratory problems and had traveled to numerous experts in Ohio and North Carolina.

When the family moved to Michigan, they were introduced to Harvey L. Leo, MD. Dr. Leo’s comprehensive approach impressed the Lenyos. “He was different than the doctors we had taken Isabella to visit,” said George. “He looked for a new explanation rather than simply repeating what others had already performed.”

Dr. Leo also had a connection to National Jewish Health. He completed a fellowship in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology here. He felt so strongly about the quality training he received that he joined a practice in Michigan with fellow National Jewish Health alumni.

After a series of tests and a stay in the pediatric intensive care unit, Isabella’s condition was worsening and starting to cause long-term damage to her lungs. Dr. Leo felt that he had exhausted all avenues in Michigan and recommended that she see the specialists at National Jewish Health.

“There was only once place that could offer a full comprehensive evaluation with multiple specialists – National Jewish Health,” said Dr. Leo.

Isabella was 6 years old when the Lenyos traveled to National Jewish Health for a two-week appointment in the Pediatric Day Program.

“The doctors at National Jewish Health conducted a lot of tests to rule things out and keep things in play,” said George. “They were able to confirm that she had asthma and that she was allergic to cockroaches.” 

But there appeared to be more to her illness than simply just asthma and allergies. After discussions with Dr. Leo and the team at National Jewish Health, a few clinical thoughts were emerging. 

Although Isabella had initially tested negative for gastroesophageal (GE) reflux, the doctors had her undergo a barium swallow near the end of her visit due to the observations made by her physicians and her history of repeated illnesses.

“She refluxed in massive amounts,” said Julie. “The doctors determined that Isabella was aspirating stomach acids and digestive enzymes into her lungs.”

After all the tests and multiple doctors visits, it seemed like such a simple answer. Aspiration occurs when refluxed liquid or stomach contents passes the larynx and enters the lungs. It can occur without producing symptoms, especially in children, and may lead to infection of the lungs and result in recurrent pneumonia.

Isabella underwent Nissen fundoplication surgery while at National Jewish Health, which stops acid from backing up into the esophagus and allows the esophagus to heal. After the surgery, Isabella’s lungs could finally heal.

Now, at age 12, Isabella is “astronomically different,” said Julie. Isabella has dramatically reduced the number of school days she misses and is rarely admitted to the hospital. “We cannot say enough about National Jewish Health and how different our experience was after seeing so many different doctors,” said Julie.

Isabella continues to see Dr. Leo, who still collaborates with National Jewish Health on her care. She is thriving in school and also plays soccer on a travel soccer team – something that wasn’t possible when she was ill.

“Like many children who come to National Jewish Health, Isabella’s illness is complex with many facets that ordinary care seems to be inadequate,” said Dr. Leo. “The resources of the Day Program and the clinicians that staff it are able to make something so complex approachable and find solutions to ensure healthy living.”

The Lenyos have also supported National Jewish Health and hosted an event for the hospital in their home in Michigan. “National Jewish has impacted our family beyond belief!” said Julie and George. “Their collaborative approach, coupled with outstanding resources, has provided our daughter with a second chance to live a normal life, free of hospitals, breathing machines and minimal medicine. We give to this hospital because it changed our lives and so others can experience the joy of a life-changing event.”