Alberto Fuentes' Story
Alberto Fuentes spent seven years searching for a diagnosis for a vexing medical condition that disrupted his life. He finally found answers at National Jewish Health.
When mysterious swelling and ulcers appeared on Alberto’s legs, he sought care from experts in his hometown of Miami. He was finally referred to a doctor specializing in dermatology, who thought that Alberto might have a mycobacterial infection, which can be challenging to treat.
For the next six years, he underwent more than 25 biopsies and treatments ranging from taking antibiotics and interferons to undergoing surgery to remove the ulcers.
“The ulcers would go away, and it looked like a treatment had worked,” he recalled. “Then they would come back with a vengeance.”
The ulcers, long stays in the hospital and side effects of the medications wreaked havoc on Alberto’s personal life and career as a private investigator. “I was immobile, gained 50 pounds and had to stop working.”
As a last resort, Alberto underwent therapy in a hyperbaric chamber. “One day, I came out and I was completely blind. I regained my vision, but I was very scared, and I decided that I needed another opinion.”
Alberto saw an infectious disease specialist in Florida. “The doctor looked at me for 15 minutes and said ‘You need to go to National Jewish Health. They are world experts in mycobacteria.’”
When he arrived at National Jewish Health in May 2011, Alberto had 16 open sores on his right leg and 15 on his left leg. His care was led by a team of specialists, including Christopher A. Czaja, MD, MPH, in the Division of Mycobacterial and Respiratory Infections and JoAnn Zell, MD, in the Division of Rheumatology, and Tho Q. Truong, MD, in the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
“Dr. Czaja told me that he thought that my ulcers might be caused by something other than mycobacteria,” said Alberto.
After undergoing multiple tests, doctors determined that the ulcers were caused by inflammation in his legs that then became superinfected. Superinfections occur when a person develops an infection following a previous infection, especially when caused by microorganisms that are resistant or have become resistant to the antibiotics used earlier.
“My skin would crack from the swelling, causing secondary skin infections like MRSA and E. coli.”
Alberto was given steroids that reduced the swelling, allowing the tissue to heal. He also had intravenous and oral treatments with powerful antibiotics.
“Today, I have zero sores on my legs, and the swelling has gone down,” he said.
Doctors also discovered that Alberto has an immunoglobulin deficiency, which causes his body to have a reduced number of or lack of antibodies. This explained why he was coming down with frequent sinus infections and pneumonia, and why he couldn’t fight the infections in his legs.
Since his body doesn’t produce the antibodies to respond to the infections in his body, Alberto is undergoing infusions of intravenous immunogloblin to maintain adequate antibody levels to prevent infections, with the hope that his body will eventually be able to produce the antibodies on its own.
“I have never seen a place like National Jewish Health,” said Alberto. “The teamwork is the most impressive thing. You have eight brilliant minds working on one person. That is how they produce these miracles.”
Alberto recently moved to Colorado to be close to the doctors at National Jewish Health and for the benefits of a drier climate.
“They are my heroes, and I feel like I am at home.”