Online search leads Massachusetts patient to National Jewish Health

Imagine you are putting together a jigsaw puzzle and each missing piece represents a gap that impacts your health. That’s how patient Toni Sennott describes what happened to her before she found National Jewish Health.

Toni, who lives in Sandwich, Mass., was diagnosed with a fungal infection in her lungs in 2009. She found out about the infection when she went to a local emergency room because she was experiencing shortness of breath. She was treated for the infection immediately, and as a precautionary measure, she was advised to see a local pulmonologist to make sure the infection didn’t return.

Toni felt fine for several years and was on her way to a regularly scheduled appointment in May 2011 when she began feeling very sick and thought she was having a heart attack. The pulmonologist’s office sent her to the ER, and she was hospitalized. Doctors ran several tests, including a bronchoscopy. That’s when Toni was diagnosed with “Lady Windermere Syndrome,” an infection of the lungs due to Mycobacterium avium complex, also referred to as MAC.

Shortly after Toni was diagnosed, she did some research and found Gwen Huitt, MD, and National Jewish Health online. “I chose Dr. Huitt and National Jewish Health over doctors in Boston because of her expertise, and because when I called to make an appointment, I was told they would be doing extensive testing before I even saw the doctor. This made me feel better,” Toni said.

Toni first came to National Jewish Health in December 2011. She spent five days as Dr. Huitt’s patient and said it “changed her life.” Doctors here determined that some of her breathing problems were also likely a byproduct from acid reflux. Stomach contents and acid that may contain a MAC pathogen can back up into the esophagus and aspirate into the lungs, causing infections. Together, Toni and Dr. Huitt came up with regime to help her, which she still follows. It includes having her sleep mostly upright and avoiding acidic foods such as coffee, tomatoes and citrus. It also includes ongoing respiratory therapy, dietary changes and regular exercise.

Today, Toni is healthy and keeping up with Dr. Huitt’s recommendations. It’s made a difference, Toni said, as most people with MAC have to take medication but she hasn’t needed to thus far. She still sees Dr. Huitt every year.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to have found Dr. Huitt,” she said. “I have been very happy and am grateful to the doctors, nurses and for the care I’ve received at National Jewish Health.”

 

What is “Lady Windermere Syndrome”?

“Lady Windermere Syndrome” is an infection of the lungs due to Mycobacterium avium complex, also referred to as MAC. MAC is the most commonly found form of non-tuberculosis mycobacteria, and it is believed that MAC can be transmitted through inhalation (respiratory tract) or ingestion (into the gastrointestinal tract). Patients with MAC often experience chronic coughing, fatigue and shortness of breath. The term “Windermere” refers to the character, Lady Windermere, in the play by Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and how the disease tends to affect older female patients with abnormal lungs or bronchi. Treatment includes a combination of antituberculosis antibiotics for several weeks.

 

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