Finally, the correct diagnosis brings renewed health and a new lease on life
Nearly 44 years ago, Nancy George was diagnosed with severe asthma. Despite a variety of asthma medications, Nancy was hospitalized two to three times a year for decades. Her condition worsened in recent years.
“One time she had what she thought was an asthma attack,” her husband, Steve, said. “She drove herself to the hospital, and, by time I got there, she was in the ICU.” When Nancy was released, she had 17 new medications and a referral to National Jewish Health.
In April 2020, Nancy met with National Jewish Health Pulmonologist Jay Finigan, MD. “Anytime someone has ‘really hard-to-control asthma’ I get suspicious,” said Dr. Finigan. After reviewing Nancy’s medical history, including the multiple failed asthma treatments, he examined her vocal cords.
“I could see that Nancy’s vocal cords came together when they shouldn’t, obstructing the normal airflow. This caused her to experience coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing,” said Dr. Finigan. “It was clear she had vocal cord dysfunction, not asthma.”
In patients with vocal cord dysfunction, also known as exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction (EILO), the vocal cords inappropriately close off the airway when a patient takes a breath. The condition mimics aspects of asthma and is often misdiagnosed.
After 44 years, Nancy finally had the correct diagnosis. The new diagnosis meant new treatment, without medications or oxygen. “The speech therapist gave me some exercises to retrain my vocal cords so I can breathe right,” Nancy said.
“Nancy’s probably seen over 40 doctors across the country,” said Steve. “None of them considered anything other than asthma until she came to National Jewish Health.”
“Here’s the key,” Nancy said. “At National Jewish Health, the providers listen to you. They don’t have preconceived ideas of what’s wrong with you based on notes from other doctors. They listen and take in the whole scope of what’s happening in your body.”
Today, Nancy has the freedom to breathe easily. “This experience with National Jewish Health has been an extreme blessing. It gave me my full life back.”
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