Patricia Healy's Story

Patricia HealyAfter four years of living with shortness of breath and fatigue, Patricia “Pat” Healy, 67, felt like life was slipping away. Visits to numerous doctors and five different hospitals could not produce a definitive diagnosis. Finally, a four-day appointment at National Jewish Health provided Pat the answers she had been seeking.

Pat and her husband were enjoying retirement on the west coast of Florida, and she volunteered much of her time at her local church. During the winter holidays in 2006, Pat started having breathing problems. She thought it might be related to mold spores from the Christmas trees she had been selling for the church.

When the symptoms did not go away, Pat’s primary care physician sent her to a pulmonologist. The doctor put her in the hospital for 10 days, where she saw various specialists and had several tests. At the end of her stay, the doctors were unable to diagnose Pat’s condition.

She left the hospital feeling frustrated but determined to find answers. For the next four years, her breathing continued to deteriorate as she visited doctors in Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

While visiting her children in Pennsylvania in 2006, they were panicked when Pat could barely walk from her shortness of breath. She visited two different hospitals, where she received two different diagnoses – crushed glass syndrome and chronic bronchiolitis. One physician put her on oxygen therapy and told her that she had five to 10 years to live.

“Talk about depression,” said Pat. “I was crying all the time.”

Pat returned to Florida, and immediately went to see her primary care physician to update him on what she had learned in Pennsylvania. “He said, ‘I don’t buy it,’” Pat recalls.

He also told her that he had been doing research and had found National Jewish Health in Denver. “I didn’t care where it was,” said Pat. “I would go to Timbuktu for answers.”

She called that day, and found something she had been seeking for four years – hope. “The nurse I spoke with was so nice,” said Pat.  “I finally felt like I was talking to someone who wanted to help me.”

She was scheduled for a four-day appointment and worked with the travel services provided by National Jewish Health to book her trip to Denver. Twenty percent of patient visits to National Jewish Health come from outside Colorado. Pat is one of thousands of patients who come to Denver each year to find answers, treatments and cures where others cannot.

She was seen by Amy Olson, MD, MSPH. “I remember she told me not to worry, that when I left I would know what the problem was and have the tools to fix it,” Pat recalls. “She told me I would be my old self.”

After running several tests, Dr. Olson determined that the beta blockers Pat had been taking for seven years for high blood pressure were contributing to her shortness of breath. She also diagnosed Pat with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Pat stayed on oxygen therapy, was prescribed a different medication for her high blood pressure and also began doing respiratory therapy three times a week for four months. After four months, she no longer needed oxygen therapy and now manages her condition with medications.

“Everyone was wonderful – from the first person I talked to, to the last person who helped me with billing,” said Pat. “I felt like I was the only patient in the hospital. They cared that I would get better; they fought for me.”

Now back in Florida, Pat “feels like a normal person.” She is dedicated to spreading the word about National Jewish Health and recently spoke about her experience at a luncheon.