Marian Sofferin, 57, has experienced far more than her share of health problems over the years,  but none puzzled her doctors in Seattle as much as Mycobacterium Avium Complex, or MAC. Then, she discovered National Jewish Health.

Marian’s history with difficult illnesses began nearly 40 years ago, when she was 18 years old and being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of lymph tissue found in the lymph nodes. She had surgery and received radiation treatments to her chest and owes her 38 years of being cancer-free to these treatments. But, she also knows that they affected her health over the years. More than a decade later, when she turned 30, Marian began to experience lung problems that included frequent bouts of pneumonia and chronic infections.

In 1996, Marian and her family moved from Southern California to Seattle. Still experiencing respiratory difficulties, she began coughing up blood. Her primary care doctor sent her to a pulmonologist who conducted a bronchoscopy. Initially, Marian’s doctors thought she had tuberculosis, but the results eventually came back as 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.

Marian’s doctors put her on a year-long course of antibiotics, and said that at some point, surgery might be an option. In addition to the damage caused by the MAC infection, her lungs had been damaged by the radiation treatments for cancer years earlier. The antibiotics resolved the infection, but six years later, in 2002, she began coughing up blood again.

Marian went to a different pulmonologist in Seattle who put her on a battery of multiple antibiotics for two years. She started to feel better, but still had low energy and didn’t feel like herself. The doctor wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, so Marian went to another pulmonologist for a second opinion.

The pulmonologist told her that they see very few cases of MAC in the Seattle area and recommended that she come to National Jewish Health. Marian is one of thousands of patients who are referred to National Jewish Health each year because of our expertise and unique approaches to treatment of respiratory, cardiac and immune diseases.

In February 2005, Marian came to National Jewish Health for a two-week stay. After a full work-up, Marian’s doctors, Scott Worthen, MD, and Gwen Huitt, MD, determined that surgery was the best treatment.

“After years of searching for an answer, it was wonderful to have my doctors make a definitive treatment decision,” Marian said. “I had no life, and no one else wanted to make a decision. National Jewish saved my life.”

Marian underwent three months of IV infusion and then had the surgery in May 2005. She returned to Seattle and stayed on antibiotics for two years. Marian felt healthy for the first time in years and had the energy to resume one of her favorite activities, mowing the lawn.

Marian has experienced other health problems related to the radiation treatments, including open-heart surgery in 2010, but she knows she can always rely on National Jewish Health if necessary. “There is no place like it. When all else fails, I know I can go there,” she said.

Through it all, Marian maintains her positive outlook on life and makes the best of what, at times, can be a difficult situation. Despite the problems that the radiation treatments caused, she is thankful that they allowed her to live a full life with her husband and two daughters.


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