Nancy Ott's Story

  • Nancy and friends in the rec room.
  • Enjoying life in the girls' dorm.
  • Thanksgiving edition of the patient-written newspaper.

For Nancy Ott, MD, the eight months she spent at National Jewish Health in 1971 were more than a stay in a hospital. During that time, she experienced life in a large city, made lifelong friends and had the first inspiration for a future career in medicine.

Throughout her childhood in Fargo, North Dakota, Dr. Ott was in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices with asthma and allergies. At the time, there were no allergists or pulmonologists in Fargo.

“I was always sick,” she says. “I would sit in the hospital, take prednisone and sit in oxygen tents for a couple of weeks.”

Dr. Ott’s family learned about National Jewish Health from the mayor of Fargo at the time, Herschel Laskowitz. His family had a connection to the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital (CARIH), which was the asthma research arm of the hospital.

In March of 1971, when Dr. Ott was 13 years old, she came to Denver for treatment of her asthma and allergies. The Children’s Treatment Center became her home for the next eight months. During her stay, she underwent “hundreds of allergy tests and inhalation challenges” and participated in research studies.

Dr. Ott took a medication called theophylline, a preventive asthma treatment. Through the 1970s, National Jewish Health researchers made significant contributions to the use of theophylline, including ways to individualize asthma treatment and how to best use the medication in combination with other asthma drugs.

She developed lasting friendships with other patients who hailed from across the U.S. as well as foreign countries. Dr. Ott had four roommates, and they entertained themselves in the rec room and gym, wrote for the resident newspaper – and even played an occasional prank.

The students were also responsible for changing their sheets twice a week and doing their own laundry. “It was my first time doing laundry,” she recalls. “All of my white socks turned red.”

Counselors kept the children busy with various activities. “They really made an effort to get you out and make you move,” recalls Dr. Ott. “I remember that I was really sore after we visited the zoo because I hadn’t walked like that before. At home, I was sick and had sat for months.”

Dr. Ott finished her seventh grade school year and spent the first semester of eighth grade at the hospital, attending school across the street at Gove Middle School. “It was a whole new world for me. I got to know people with different backgrounds – it opened my mind up.”

Her time at National Jewish Health also opened her mind to different career opportunities. “I remember there was a female resident, and I asked ‘Are you a nurse?’,” says Dr. Ott. “She said, ‘No, I’m a doctor.’ The thought had never crossed my mind. I had always been interested in science, and it spurred me on.”

At the end of her stay, Dr. Ott was sad to leave Denver and the friends she made, some of whom she is still in contact with. Her asthma and allergies also improved. “I was able to do things that I could never do before. I participated in gym, jogged and danced in musicals.”

Today, Dr. Ott lives in Minnesota, where she has been in private practice for more than 20 years treating asthma and allergies for both adult and pediatric patients. She still takes asthma medications daily and takes precautions, like having wood floors in her house.

Dr. Ott also tries to encourage her asthma patients to stay active, and hopes that she can inspire them with her own story. “I tell them to take their medications and keep moving.”

If you would like to reconnect with Dr. Ott or are interested in sharing your story, please contact Bridget O’Toole, Development Staff Writer, at otooleb@njhealth.org.

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