Finding Answers in Familiar Places
A Donor and Volunteer Experiences the Care She Supports
In January 2015, Marla Wood caught whatever was going around her office. The doctor told her, “It’s a bug. Hold your breath; you’ll get over it,” but she didn’t get over it. While her co-workers’ health improved, hers only got worse.
In addition to a cough and fatigue, perhaps the scariest symptom Marla developed was difficulty breathing. “I felt like I was breathing through a straw that was getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “It hurt when I inhaled. It hurt when I exhaled.”
This little bug was causing her to miss work. It got so bad that she couldn’t even walk to the mailbox and back without resting.
“I went back to the doctor, and was sent to someone else, then someone else, then urgent care, the ER, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist. I saw seven different providers,” Marla said. “I saw the last doctor for six weeks until he shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea why I wasn’t getting better. He suggested I go to National Jewish Health.”
This was not Marla’s first introduction to National Jewish Health.
A Cause That Would Hit Close to Home
A year earlier, a friend asked Marla to serve on a fundraising committee for the 2014 Spirit of Achievement Award Dinner benefiting National Jewish Health.
“Even though National Jewish Health is very active in New Mexico, and my friend Del Archuleta is a trustee and long-time supporter, I knew nothing about the hospital until Joanne Fine asked me to be her representative on the committee,” Marla said.
As an ambassador for the event, Marla invited friends and family and shared on social media what she had discovered about the mission and work of National Jewish Health.
She was also inspired by a couple who spoke at the event about the care they received at the hospital.
“You could see in their eyes what a difference it made,” Marla said. “Their story made it tangible why we were raising money and who we were raising money for.”
Marla hoped to be involved with the dinner the following year, but a week before the event, she became a patient of National Jewish Health.
A New Kind of Treatment
When Marla’s doctor referred her to National Jewish Health, she knew what kind of care she would receive.
“My husband, Bruce, and I had already been thinking that might be our next step. We were happy to jump in the car and drive to Denver for a week,” she said.
Her appointment was with Gary R. Cott, MD, a pulmonologist. She trusted him immediately. For 90 minutes they went over every detail of her life –even the carpeting in her house. Half-way through, Dr. Cott told her he thought he may know what she had, but he wanted to do some testing before sharing his theory.
“I went through three and a half days of tests, and the professionalism with which everyone greeted me was astounding,” Marla said. “I never waited more than five minutes; everyone knew when and why I was supposed to be there. I’ve never had medical appointments go so well. My favorite part, though, was the wiz bang technology.”
Dr. Cott’s theory proved to be correct. He diagnosed bronchiolitis, an inflammatory obstruction of the lung's tiniest airways, called bronchioles. The bronchioles become damaged and inflamed by chemical particles or respiratory infections, leading to extensive scarring that blocks the airways. This is why Marla felt like she was breathing through an ever-shrinking straw.
The pain in her chest, he said was inflammation between her ribs and sternum called costochondritis, possibly caused by her persistent cough.
Dr. Cott placed Marla on a long-term treatment plan that included Azithromycin and a steroid inhaler with the goal that both would help reduce inflammation in her lungs.
“It may be years till I get my full lung capacity back, but knowing what is wrong and being able to control my symptoms helps quell my fear. It is amazing what power there is in being able to name what I have,” she said.
Taking Back Her Health
Marla said that year after year she has received great care from institutions in New Mexico, and this time she just needed a little something extra.
She said her continuing care has seamlessly transitioned from her team at National Jewish Health to her pulmonologist in New Mexico.
“They all agree on what should be happening. Now that I am home, my pulmonologist is very capable of continuing my care,” she said.
Support When Needed Most
In addition to her medical team, Marla credits her survival to her husband. She recalled that when she was at her worst, her CPA husband was in the middle of tax season. She said he was incredibly busy at work, and still managed to grocery shop, cook, clean, run the house and care for her and their daughters.
“Bruce is a rock star. He is amazing. He was there holding my hand through every appointment and consultation,” Marla said. “I had to stop working for a time, but because of Bruce, we could still pay our bills, our mortgage and the cost of going to National Jewish Health. Not everyone can do that, which is why we are raising money.”
National Jewish Health never turns a patient away based on ability to pay. That is one reason Marla has been a donor and a supporter at past events. The 2016 Spirit of Achievement Dinner means something different though. “When you are sick, the last thing on your mind is worrying about paying to survive,” she said. “I had that weight lifted by Bruce. I hope that some New Mexicans can feel that same relief from some of the dollars we raise at the Spirit of Achievement Dinner.”
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