Team of Experts Solves a Mystery

Kimbrell Kimbrough was going downhill fast. What had started as swelling in her hands and neck had progressed to extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing and dangerously low oxygen levels in her blood. Her hair was falling out, and she needed a wheelchair – when she could muster the energy to get out of bed. Doctors in Georgia first thought she had double pneumonia, then bronchiolitis obliterans, interstitial pneumonia, tuberculosis, and maybe even HIV. They tried antibiotics, steroids and many other medications to no avail.

Kimbrell Kimbrough is back to leading an active life and getting the right diagnosis and treatment.
Kimbrell Kimbrough is back to leading an active life and getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

“Finally they said that they had tried everything they knew, had no other options, and were sending me home,” said Kimbrough. “Basically they were sending me home to die.”

She wrote letters to her young son and husband to be read after her death. Her family and friends gave her a surprise 37th birthday party, with the unspoken expectation that she would not have a 38th. But Kimbrough’s internist persevered. He found National Jewish Health.

“Right away I felt like they cared. From the valet parking the car, to the receptionist, the nurses taking my vital signs and the doctors who never seemed rushed, they cared, and they understood me as a whole person,” said Kimbrough.

At National Jewish Health, Kimbrough saw pulmonologist Kevin Brown, MD, and rheumatologist Richard Meehan, MD, in the Autoimmune Lung Center. Drs. Brown and Meehan combine their expertise in pulmonology and rheumatology to diagnose and care for patients whose lung disease is caused by immune disorders. Together, over the course of a week of extensive testing and consultation, Drs. Brown and Meehan determined that Kimbrough suffered from a rare combination of autoimmune diseases scleroderma and polymyositis, which were attacking her lungs and other organs in her body.

Over the next 11 months, Drs. Brown and Meehan worked to find the right combination of medications that could protect her lungs by suppressing her overactive immune system, while keeping her from becoming dangerously susceptible to infection. Today, Kimbrough is active once again, playing tennis, running and caring for her family.

“They didn’t give up, and they found the answer,” said Kimbrough. “They saved my life.