A nurse once told Nancy Deans she had never seen a patient who breathed so shallowly. Nancy knew that if she breathed very lightly, kept calm and did not exert herself suddenly, she would be all right. But life does not always work that way. In 2015, while bathing her horse Fury in preparation for a barrel racing competition, Nancy Deans suffered another shortness-of-breath episode. In an instant, she was on her hands and knees, unable to talk, gasping for breath.
“You just lose your air,” said Deans, 58, of Montrose, Colorado.
Breathing problems had plagued Deans for nearly a decade. She had surgery to remove a blockage in her airway, which offered some relief. But the breathing problems always returned, and no one could tell her the cause.
Finally, she realized that she could not compete in barrel racing, the sport she loves. “I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t risk passing out on that horse.”
Fortunately, one of her fellow barrel racers recommended that she come to National Jewish Health, where she saw senior pulmonologist Don Rollins, MD. After extensive testing and comprehensive evaluation at National Jewish Health, Dr. Rollins came into the examination room with a diagnosis.
“Congratulations, you have asthma,” said Dr. Rollins. Finally, it had a name, and he could treat it,” said Deans.
The comprehensive testing also revealed that Deans’ asthma was complicated by sleep apnea and vocal cord dysfunction. The blockage in her airway also had grown back. “The majority of our patients have multiple issues that restrict their breathing,” said Dr. Rollins. “That’s why we look deeper and investigate further to restore a person’s ability to breathe well.
In a highly specialized procedure, interventional pulmonologist Kendra Hammond, MD, removed the airway obstruction and cauterized it, so that it is unlikely to return anytime soon.
Dr. Rollins prescribed medications for asthma and a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for her sleep apnea. Speech therapist Kristina Johnston taught Deans exercises to control the vocal cord dysfunction.
Dr. Rollins continues to see Deans regularly to monitor her ongoing health.
Two years later, Deans is breathing easier and has resumed strenuous barrel racing. “My breathing … It’s like night and day,” said Deans.
“I am 100 percent better. I can breathe again.”
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