Joan Ottenritter was a busy mother of two living a healthy and active life in Baltimore when she learned she had a rare, potentially deadly disease lurking in her lungs. A long journey through various treatments would eventually lead her to National Jewish Health and a cure.
"Coming to National Jewish Health was the best move I have ever made. They saved my life," she said.
Discovery of a Lung Infection
In 2001, Joan coughed up blood while on vacation in Florida. Since she had no other symptoms and felt fine, a doctor attributed it to an allergy to paint from a remodeling project.
Several months later, it happened again while waiting in the carpool line at her children's school. Concerned, her husband who is a physician, suggested she see a pulmonologist in Baltimore. After undergoing two bronchoscopies, they found a growth in Joan's lungs that was caused by Mycobacterium Avium Complex (MAC), a germ related to the tuberculosis germ. It is not contagious and is believed to enter the lungs or body through air, water or soil. Joan and her doctors have never been able to determine where she contracted MAC.
She began a regimen of six different medications to treat the growth. After three months, her pulmonologist in Baltimore consulted with a physician at National Jewish Health, a leader in the treatment of MAC. The physician recommended reducing Joan's treatment to three medications for an 18-month period. After completing the treatment, the growth disappeared.
National Jewish Health Was Where Joan "Needed to Be"
Symptom free, Joan visited an internist for a follow-up exam in 2005. A CAT scan revealed the growth had returned, and the physician recommended trying the drug therapy again.
That was when Joan decided that National Jewish Health was where she "needed to be since it is the best hospital for respiratory disease." When she arrived in 2006, she looked and felt like the picture of health. But as soon as Gwen Huitt, MD, examined her, she ordered that Joan be hooked up to an IV and recommended immediate surgery to remove part of Joan's lung (called a lobectomy).
The surgery provided a cure, and Joan has been disease-free for five years. She continues her active, and healthy, life in Baltimore where she runs a lighting business. She enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with her two children who are now in college.
"The people at National Jewish Health were wonderful—they are no nonsense, know their stuff and they do their job well."
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