Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Colleen S's Story

My PH story begins when I was born in September 1975. I had a collapsed left lung, and I was taken away before my mom could even hold me. In fact, my mom didn't get to hold me for 3 days because she was dealing with an infection of some sort. Eventually, my parents got to take me home, and all seemed fine. I wasn't gaining much weight from feedings, and because of that, I didn't get my first set of shots at the time they were usually given. My mom took me to the free clinic for them, and one of the doctors there thought they heard something with my heart. He suggested that my mom talk to my pediatrician about it. She did, and my pediatrician heard nothing, so nothing was done. When my mom brought me for my second set of shots, at the same clinic, the doctor again said he heard something going on with my heart, and thought something was very wrong. I looked bluish around the lips, and he was very concerned. So, my parents again brought me to the pediatrician, who finally referred them to Children's Hospital in Buffalo, NY.
When my parents brought me in for the appointment with the cardiologist at Children's, the doctor took one look at me, and took me before all the other people in the waiting room. They knew something was very wrong! They did an echo, EKG, eventually an RHC (right heart catheterization, and finally told my parents that I had atrioventricular canal (a congenital heart defect, two holes in my heart), and pulmonary hypertension. They told my parents there wasn't much they could do, to take me home and allow me to live a fairly normal life. They weren't sure if I'd live a year (I was diagnosed at 9 months old), or 50. I think they were really thinking I wouldn't make it past a year! They told my parents to seriously consider having another baby right away. Of course, my parents were scared to death with this news, but they brought me home and did the best they could for me!

I spent my childhood very short of breath most of the time when I played with my sisters, or with the neighborhood kids. I did run around with everyone, trying to keep up, but I had to take a lot of breaks! Naps were a normal, almost every day occurance. I never played sports, or even took gym classes in school. I was limited on what I could do,but my mom still found other ways I could participate in things to feel like I wasn't missing out on too much. When my classmates were off at gym, I would go down to the first grade classroom and help the teacher with things. I was in 7th and 8th grade, and it was during that time I decided I wanted to become a teacher myself!

High school and college were more personal challenges for me to deal with. I wanted to be able to do things my peers were doing, but I knew that I couldn't do most of them. My heart seemed to handle things well so far, not having any major problems growing up. I went to my cardiologist regularly, getting echos every time I went. No issues really. Growing up, the only med I was ever on for my condition was digoxin, for the heart. Pulmonary hypertension seemed to just be in the background, and I never knew exactly what it was, let alone how to say it!
When I got out of college, I started subbing for a couple months before I found a job as a preschool teacher in a daycare. I worked there for a couple months before I got another job as a preschool teacher for Headstart. It was working at Headstart when my health slowly started to decline. My classroom was on the 2nd floor, the cafeteria where the kids had to eat (and we were required to eat with them) was in the basement, so climbing 6 flights of stairs a few times a day started really hurting me. Not to mention that little preschoolers are germ factories! I also was dating at the time, trying to go out partying almost every weekend, and going back to grad school for my masters' degree. During my third year at Headstart, I really started getting sicker. I had double pneumonia, bronchitis, and was on my third respiratory illness when my PCP told me, with tears in her eyes, I needed to quit my job. But honestly, I don't think I'd still be here if she didn't tell me to do that!!

I quit my job, but decided to finish my masters'. I spent a lot of time recovering from being sick while working, and just getting a lot of rest besides going to school. My PCP eventually referred me to the Cleveland Clinic for a lung transplant evaluation. I went for the first time in 2001. I was put on oxygen 24/7, and told I needed to start Coumadin. The next couple times I went back, transplantation was talked about, but I didn't have any testing done for it. In 2003, I was told I was going to start Tracleer. I had no clue what this was, the doctor really didn't tell me! A month later, I realized it was a pill. Whew! I had read about Flolan, and I sure did NOT want to start that!

I began Tracleer on October 12, 2003. People pick on me a lot for remembering dates for things, but remembering a date that significantly changed my life is no laughing matter. I didn't notice any changes with the Tracleer until maybe a month after starting it. It was extremely subtle, but a change, nonetheless. I went to vote for something, and on the walk back from the building to my car in the parking lot, I realized I wasn't short of breath! I couldn't believe it! I got back home, walked from my garage to the house (which sometimes causes me to get SOB), and felt ok! I started crying! My life was all about being SOB most of the time doing anything physical, and here I was, feeling OK. After that, the Tracleer kept improving my condition. I went from never being able to take gym at school, to walking 2 miles on the treadmill!! It was like magic!

Over the next few years, I felt the Tracleer had sort of tapered off. I asked about Revatio, and started it on August 16, 2007. After being on it for awhile, I felt it helped, but I did increase the dosage again about a year later. Between Tracleer and Revatio, I feel good most days. Yes, I still get tired, yes I still get SOB, but it's not as bad as usual when I was growing up. I've learned to make adjustments to whatever I do. I've learned to take my time with things, and not overdo something. If I'm going to exercise one day, I won't also clean. If I'm going to attempt vacuuming, that will be my exercise! If I'm going to have a full day being out somewhere, I make sure the next day is for rest. I usually stick to what I say I'm going to do, although I can be hard-headed about stuff and push my limits every once in awhile. But for the most part, living with PH has been much easier for me with medicines that were not even available 33 years ago when I was diagnosed. I thank God for allowing me to have so many years so far, and I pray it can continue!!

During the past 7 years since I've been going to Cleveland for treatment, I have found a new focus in life, PH awareness. Since I found out about the PH Association, I've been going there daily, sometimes several times a day, to read the message boards and chat with phriends. I host 2 chats there, and I answer questions or respond to posts when I feel I can share something useful. I also run my own PH support group in Buffalo/Niagara Falls. That was definitely a blessing for me to start, not only for my own sense of belonging, but for those who join, too. I keep busy with my life, and I surely rest when I need to do so! I'm managing with my PH, and I can only hope it continues!

1 comment:

Annette said...

You are such a wonderful phriend!