After years of living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Dave Savage’s condition and quality of life were declining. He found the help he needed from the experts at National Jewish Health.
Dave was diagnosed with emphysema and bronchitis in 1998 after going to see his primary care physician for shortness of breath. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two main forms of COPD, and most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions.
He was able to manage the COPD for more than nine years with an inhaler. However, in 2007, he began to have exacerbations – or a worsening of symptoms - two to three times per year.
By 2009, he had developed resistance to some of the antibiotics being prescribed to treat his recurrent bronchitis, and his doctor began prescribing more powerful antibiotics. But, the exacerbations continued, and Dave knew he needed to find answers.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of going back on antibiotics, and I wanted to go to a doctor who knew more about COPD than my primary care physician,” he said. “As a native of Denver, I knew about National Jewish Health, and I knew it was the best.”
In 2010, Dave began seeing Rachel L. Zemans, MD, who specializes in internal and pulmonary medicine at National Jewish Health.
Dave’s lungs were damaged from the emphysema, and Dr. Zemans treated him with oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation, an exercise program that builds strength and endurance and teaches breathing techniques.
Unfortunately, these therapies treat symptoms but do not cure the disease. Dave was becoming more reliant on oxygen therapy to help him breathe. “I needed oxygen to take a shower,” he said. “I needed it for anything that required physical exertion, so I just stopped being active.”
Through a CT scan, Dr. Zemans also discovered a nodule, or spot, on his lung. Because nodules can be cancerous and because his shortness of breath was so severe, Dr. Zemans recommended that Dave undergo lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) to remove the nodule and the most diseased part of his lung.
In patients with COPD, there are often portions of the lung tissue that are more diseased than other portions. LVRS removes up to 20 to 30 percent of the most diseased tissue from the lungs at one time. Removing some of the emphysema helps the healthier areas of the lungs and muscles to function better.
After having the surgery in June 2011, Dave learned that the nodule was benign and his breathing has improved. “I feel so much better,” he said. “I am only taking oxygen at night, and my overall health is better.”
Dave has returned full-time to his job, and he is looking forward to celebrating his 40th anniversary with his wife and family.
He is grateful that National Jewish Health was able to help him. “There is a personal interest that comes through with everyone you meet,” he said. “From the valet parking to the doctors, it is unbelievable.”
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