“When you can’t breathe, you feel like you are drowning,” Sharon Stuart says. For a year and a half, this terrifying feeling would overtake her at least once a day. It all started with a cough she couldn’t shake. After a month, Sharon saw her primary care doctor who “did all the usual treatments.”
For several more months, the cough persisted but didn’t get worse. Things changed on a trip to Indiana.
“I couldn’t stop coughing; I couldn’t get a breath,” Sharon says.
Her family took Sharon to the emergency room, and she was admitted to the hospital for four days. A chest x-ray revealed abnormalities in her lungs.
“The trip to Indiana was a perfect storm for my cough – the high humidity, a wet spring and the climate change.”
Once her condition stabilized, a pulmonologist at the hospital told her, “Go home to Colorado, and find a good pulmonologist.”
Sharon’s primary care doctor referred her to National Jewish Health, and she was able to get an appointment 10 days later. However, she wouldn’t make it to that appointment.
“Five days later, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t walk across the room,” Sharon says.
Sharon went to her local emergency room and was put in the intensive care unit with aspiration pneumonia. This type of pneumonia results from the aspiration of food, liquid or stomach acids into the upper respiratory tract.
Doctors discovered that a previous surgery for reflux had failed, and the surgery had to be redone. This solved the problem of the aspiration pneumonia, but a year later, Sharon was still coughing and had lost 40 pounds.
She went to see an immunologist for allergies. He ordered a high-resolution CT scan, and for the first time, they could see what was wrong with Sharon’s lungs.
The scan revealed that she had bronchiectasis, a condition in which damage to the airways causes them to widen and become flabby and scarred. It develops after frequent serious respiratory infections. A chronic cough, like Sharon’s, is a common symptom of bronchiectasis.
By then, Sharon was ready to make another appointment at National Jewish Health. The following month, she saw Gary Cott, MD, in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. Because Sharon also had allergies and reflux issues, several specialists at National Jewish Health, including an immunologist and gastroenterologist, collaborated on her care.
“Dr. Cott has been so good,” Sharon says. “He got me on the right combination of medicines and got my breathing under control. If it weren’t for Dr. Cott, I would still be coughing.”
Today, Sharon is feeling better and able to enjoy life again. “I can’t say enough good things about the organization. I love National Jewish Health.”
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