Pat Wallingford's Story

Patricia WallingfordIn 2006, Patricia “Pat” Wallingford began experiencing shortness of breath while out on her daily morning walks. “I would get two blocks from home, and I would start huffing and puffing,” she said.

Pat had suffered from severe asthma as a child, and she thought that the shortness of breath was caused by a recurrence of her asthma. She visited her primary care physician, who agreed that it could be asthma and prescribed an inhaler.

By 2008, Pat’s breathing wasn’t improving, and she knew that she needed to find out what was causing the problem. She had seen an ad for free spirometry at National Jewish Health and decided to come in for a screening.

Spirometry is a simple test, where a person takes in a deep breath and blows into a mouthpiece attached to the spirometer to measure how much (volume) and how fast (flow) the person can move air into and out of the lungs. This test measures lung health and can often help to diagnose lung diseases in the early stages, when treatment is most effective.

“After I took the test, the technician told me I needed to see a doctor,” said Pat. “I immediately made an appointment at National Jewish Health.”

At her appointment, Pat saw National Jewish Health physician James Ellis, Jr, MD. He conducted a number of tests and diagnosed bacterial pneumonia. While Pat had no symptoms, her lungs were so infected that she may have had pneumonia for two and half to three years.

“Dr. Ellis is the kindest, most gentle doctor,” she said. “He is very encouraging and lets you know that they will help you find answers.”

Pat was treated with antibiotics for 10 months, and the pneumonia cleared up. However, just a few months later, Pat’s breathing worsened again. Dr. Ellis referred Pat to Philip Hanna, MD, a gastroenterologist at National Jewish Health.

Dr. Hanna determined that Pat was refluxing acid and digestive enzymes from her stomach to her airways almost constantly. The acid and enzymes were aspirating, or secreting, into Pat’s lungs and causing the infection. Pat did not have any symptoms of the reflux, which is called “silent aspiration.”

Dr. Hanna recommended that Pat undergo a procedure called a Nissen fundoplication surgery, which stops acid from backing up into the esophagus and allows the esophagus to heal.

“Dr. Hanna was excellent, and the surgery made a huge difference,” said Pat. “When I was not feeling well, I was so tired all the time. After the surgery, I can breathe and I have energy again.”

This collaboration among physicians is part of the unique system of coordinated care at National Jewish Health. All aspects of treatment are simplified by placing the entire care team in one location. Specialty physicians, diagnostic experts, nurses and other health care professionals spend an extraordinary amount of time working together to diagnose diseases and create treatment plans tailored to each patient’s individual needs.

Now retired from a career as a teacher, Pat enjoys volunteering and traveling. She recently returned from a trip to Oklahoma and has plans to visit New York in the fall.

Pat returns every three months for a check up with Dr. Ellis, and she has seen her lung capacity grow from 36 to 70 (out of 100), with hopes of continued improvement.

“National Jewish Health is simply the best,” said Pat.