An avid runner and “the healthiest guy you have ever met,” Denny Breedlove was at the start line for the 2010 Cleveland Marathon when he started coughing. He spent the next two years chasing a diagnosis before arriving at National Jewish Health.
“It was a hard, deep cough that just kept hanging on,” said Denny. “I went to my GP, who went through all the routine steps to treat a cough. Nothing worked.”
Denny spent the next several months going to pulmonology and ear, nose and throat specialists in his home state of Indiana. They tried different procedures, tests and treatments.
“Those things failed as well,” said Denny. “The mystery continued.”
In addition to the cough, Denny had shortness of breath, which interfered with his ability to run. “At my worst, I would be gasping while just sitting in a chair.”
“I had run the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon every year since 1981, and I didn’t want to break the streak of 31 consecutive Minis,” he said. “I mostly walked it when I was at my sickest, and I was so disappointed that I couldn’t exercise the way I wanted to.”
He was also taking a powerful steroid to control his coughing and shortness of breath. “On three different occasions, I attempted a doctor-prescribed weaning process,” he said. “Each time, I ended up having significant breathing difficulty and a notable increase in coughing.”
Denny was referred to a local asthma and allergy specialist, Mark Holbreich, MD. “He took such an interest finding out the cause of the cough and shortness of breath,” recalled Denny. “I was very impressed with his tenacity.”
When Dr. Holbreich felt that he had exhausted all avenues in Indiana, he suggested that Denny come to National Jewish Health. Dr. Holbreich knew the hospital well because he trained here, completing a fellowship in allergy, asthma and immunology.
Denny came to Denver for a four-day appointment at National Jewish Health. James T. Good Jr., MD, a pulmonologist in the Department of Medicine, led his care.
“I felt like Dr. Good and I were kindred spirits since he is also a runner,” said Denny. “I knew he would understand my frustration, and I was confident that he would figure out the root cause of my problems.”
Dr. Good determined that acid was secreting, or aspirating, into Denny’s lungs and causing the cough. He did not have any symptoms of the reflux, which is called “silent aspiration.” Denny is now being treated for the reflux and has also made modifications such as sleeping with his upper body elevated.
“I am feeling much better and was able to discontinue the steroid treatment,” said Denny. “I consider this a significant improvement in my recovery.”
Just a few months before his visit, Denny didn’t think he would be able to participate in the Mini-Marathon.
“National Jewish Health gave me the confidence that I could get through it,” he said. “I am already planning on running it again next year.”
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