Gina Ladinsky’s favorite past time is surfing. This summer she finally regained the surfing skills that she had lost due to a struggle with a challenging lung condition that was resolved at National Jewish Health. Now she is back in the water, but more importantly she is able to once again live her life without being sick.
Gina went from doctor to doctor in California seeking a diagnosis for what appeared to be frequent bouts of pneumonia. Each time, she was prescribed antibiotics, but her symptoms didn’t get any better.
In 1996, after five years and three different internists, she went to a new doctor who decided to conduct additional tests. After a bronchoscopy was performed, Gina was diagnosed with bronchiectasis and Mycobacterium avium Complex, or MAC.
Bronchiectasis is a lung condition that causes the airways to be permanently and abnormally widened and inflamed. People with bronchiectasis are more likely to get lung infections because airways can no longer effectively clear mucous and bacteria from the lung, and each lung infection can make the bronchiectasis worse.
MAC is one strain of the nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) family of bacteria. How and why people become infected with NTM is not clear. The germs, which are related to the tuberculosis germ, are found readily in water and soil, but they do not affect most people.
NTM infections are also challenging to treat because they require multiple antibiotics for extended periods, usually months to years. Gina took a cocktail of powerful medications for more than 12 years. As a result, Gina developed a new problem, which was a fungal infection. The treatment for the fungus resulted in debilitating side effects, including vision loss.
Gina had learned about National Jewish Health from a friend and, in early 2008, decided it was time to make an appointment.
“It was a crazy feeling to get on a plane to go to a doctor’s appointment,” said Gina.
Charles L. Daley, MD, Chief of the Division of Mycobacterial and Respiratory Infections, treated Gina. “It was just amazing,” said Gina. “There was never any rush at my appointments, and the doctors know how to treat bronchiectasis and its complications.”
In order to assess Gina’s condition, Dr. Daley took her off of all the medications. Luckily, Gina regained her vision, but her lung began to occasionally bleed as a result of the fungal infection.
“Thanks to Dr. Daley, a proper identification of the fungus was made. He sent a sputum to the only laboratory in the United States capable of such a task,” said Gina.
But the bleeding persisted and the situation became life threatening.
Dr. Daley recommended that Gina return to Denver for lung resection surgery to remove the damaged part of her right lung and to remove as much of the infection as possible.
John D. Mitchell, MD, who is the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital, consults with doctors at National Jewish Health. He collaborated with Dr. Daley on Gina’s care and surgery in November 2009.
After the surgery, there is no sign of infection, and Gina is focused on staying healthy by exercising every day – whether it is surfing, biking, hiking or walking.
“I thought that life would never be the same, but now it is,” she said. Gina is back to work as an Assistant Professor of English in Los Angeles and recently published her first novel.
Gina is grateful for the care she received at National Jewish Health. “Nobody knows what National Jewish Health knows,” she said. “I wish there were hospitals like National Jewish Health for every type of healthcare need.”
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