Patients Share Stories of Fear, Hope and Finding Life at National Jewish Health

High school runner Lexi Beggan had so much pain during running that she had to quit track. Bill Odom got breathless walking up the stairs and was misdiagnosed with a fatal disease. Watch Lexi and Bill, and other patients share their stories and how they found help and hope at National Jewish Health.


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Alexi Beggan: My name is Lexi Beggan. I'm 16, I like running, especially coming downhill. It kind of makes me feel like I'm flying.

Bill Odom: I'm Bill Odom. I've always been very active. I have a friend of mine tell me one time, he says, "You're nothing but a serial entrepreneur, and that's true. I've learned owned from a medical consultant company to a packaging and shipping retail store. There was always something in the works for me.

Alexi Beggan: My identity definitely was as a runner. That's what I would always bring up when I was with my friends when they asked me what I liked until the pain started. In the races, I'd make it a mile or two before the pain would start with this tingling in my arms. It was a severe burning pain in my stomach. By the time I had to drop out, I was usually in tears.

Tod Olin: These events when they occur, they're terrifying, especially when their identity in some way revolves around their ability to exercise. It's demoralizing.

Bill Odom: I just couldn't get my breath, was just gasping, kinda felt like a fish out of water. It's just that they take those gulps, but they're not getting anything for themselves. I was having trouble walking up the stairs.

Wendy Odom: It was really hard for Bill. He's always been the bull, the one in the family that can pick up things and move things and all of a sudden, boom, he just sat there and couldn't do anything.

Alexi Beggan: All of sophomore year we tried to figure out what was going on and the pain continued throughout the summer. The doctors couldn't tell me that it was going on. They had a few suggestions. We did a lot of testing. They had no idea where the test results came back negative and I missed a ton of school.

Shana Beggan: I think she missed 72 days of school. I was talking to the doctors out of Johns Hopkins out on the east coast out of Chicago and nobody knew. Nobody had the answer.

Alexi Beggan:There was one doctor who pretty much told me it was all in my head. After a while when you start hearing that, you kind of start to believe it. It was a tough time. It's kind of hard to look back on considering I was really depressed and I didn't really want to keep on living.

Bill Odom: When I saw the x rays of my lungs, my knees buckled. I thought, "Oh my God, I'm gonna die." My doctor said it was an interstitial lung disease. I didn't know what to do, so I started researching it. I kept seeing this one word, idiopathic. If I only have one leg, I can either sit in a chair, or I can figure out how to walk with one leg. After I got over feeling sorry for myself, I told my pulmonologist, "I'm going to National Jewish Health."

Michael Rhodes: Everywhere I go, "Oh, you need to go to the National Jewish, that's the lung hospital you need to go to."

John Heath: If you have an oxygen problem and it scares you to death, before you jump off a bridge, go to Denver to National Jewish.

Lucy Cardon: All of the doctors out there in Virginia Beach and Norfolk area don't know what to do with me because I have this cough and it wouldn't go away and nobody knows why. That's why I'm here.

Alexi Beggan: My coach saw an article in the Daily Camera and he sent us an email saying, "Do you think it could be this VCD thing?"

Speaker 15: During a VCD or vocal chord dysfunction attacks, the vocal chords partially or totally close causing terrifying shortness of breath, so when we brought Lexi and we were trying to recreate what was happening in real life. We placed a laryngoscope down through her nose so that we could see her throat and then we exercised her on a bike. When Lexi's throat was closing, it was tremendously difficult to breathe and then downstream of that, as she started to breathe faster and faster, some of those other those other symptoms were popping up like the chest pain.

Speaker 15: Okay, Lexi, keep going, keep going.

Shana Beggan: It gets to the end and she is spent and he looked ecstatic and he said, "I think we're going to be able to help your daughter. I'm confident. I'm confident." We walked out and she just turned and she's bawling. She's like, "Mom, I might have an answer. They might have the answer." It was like somebody gave me my kid back. Then it was, "What do we do? What can we do? Can we come back tomorrow? Can we say Dr. Owen tomorrow?"

Breanna Tonjer: They figure out what is going on and they don't let you to leave until they do figure out what's going on and figure out a plan of attack.

Lisa Kitzmiller: They're interested in finding the root cause rather than just giving you a pill.

Evans Fernandez: Here at National Jewish we have a vast experience in diagnosing and treating patients with interstitial lung diseases. We have been doing this for many years and were good at it. We see thousands of those patients.

Bill Odom: When Dr. Fernandez came in, he looked at my hands. I thought, "What do my hands have to do with my breathing?"

Evans Fernandez: Looking at the hands, he got what we call mechanic hands, so what I knew right away that this was not IPF. Then we tested his blood and we found his immune system was attacking his lungs and his hands.

Bill Odom: He looked at me and said, "It's treatable," and that I could expect to live long, active life. Thank goodness I was fortunate enough to know where to go and that was National Jewish Health and thank goodness National Jewish Health was smart enough to know to pair me with Dr Fernandez. He saved my life. I was so scared.

Bill Odom: I came to national Jewish two years ago and I thought it was another nail in the coffin. Well, you know what? We ran that coffin through the wood chipper, coffin's gone. It's history and we're on to the next chapter in our life. When we got home from National Jewish Health, we decided to start by building a new home. It's going to be fantastic.

Speaker 19: I like being here just because you can innovate, you can see a problem and imagine a solution and try new things to see if they work.

Shana Beggan: She raised the open race and she raced, I think it was 330 girls and she took fifth, took fifth. She hadn't even been able to finish a race and now she took fifth. There aren't words to express our gratitude to National Jewish Health and thank you seems too simple. For our family, you have changed our lives and you have given my daughter hope and dreams, and her smile has returned and from the bottom of our heart, we sincerely thank you.

Alexi Beggan: My hope, kind of soared. Maybe I could have that dream that I've always hoped for. National Jewish health has gotten me back on track. I can't wait for the next season.

Speaker 20: (music) At National Jewish Health, breathing science is life.


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