September 21

National Jewish

My sewing machine is in Denver for the next week. I didn’t choose the dates for my visit to National Jewish in Denver which were booked long ago but they couldn’t be more perfect symbolically. That I am here to improve my health on the day in which Jews celebrate the New Year is not lost on me.

I’ve decided to share my journey this time instead of keeping it a secret as I did 7 years ago for fear that it might damage our business for people to know that I live with a chronic health problems that I am working hard to improve.

National Jewish only treats respiratory illnesses but their methods are interdisciplinary and unique in the US. For people like me with “co-morbidities” — respiratory illnesses that are affected by disorders in the stomach or sinuses or skin for example, this place approaches respiratory illness with a totally different strategy. When I was here 7 years ago, the brilliant diagnosticians at National Jewish diagnosed 3 medical conditions missed for 10 years by 4 teaching hospitals in Chicago. I had life-changing surgery in 2010 to correct these conditions and life improved dramatically. After months of illness last winter that left my Chicago doctors scratching their heads, I decided it was time to return to National Jewish.

Inspiring, impressive, humbling, life-saving. These are a few words that come to mind when I think of National Jewish. Then there are the patients. Many come like me from other parts of the country because they are not getting the treatment they need locally. Some are toddlers, others former miners who are coping with Black Lung. Cystic Fibrosis teens, high-performance business people with Vocal Chord Dysfunction (a condition discovered at National Jewish in 1983) and soccer moms with lung cancer or COPD are here full of hope for answers. Area hotels offer shuttles and facilitate oxygen in the rooms for National Jewish patients as all testing is outpatient.

The testing runs from 8am to 3pm daily and is torturous. It involves lots of needles, imaging, cameras threaded through the nose to view the vocal chords, camera and tissue sampling in the lungs, barium swallow testing and the dreaded methocoline challenge in which I was placed in a phone booth sized plexiglass box, asked to breathe into a tube filled with the chemicals that definitively provoked a asthma attack. It took me a week to recover from that test but it was necessary as many physicians misdiagnose asthma. Classes between tests are available to help manage your illness and answer questions from experts. Then there’s the impedance test for GERD in which you are asked to have a monitor up your nose and into your stomach left there for 24 hours. Fortunately for me, I’ve already done the last 2 but it’s common in the hotel to see people with tubes coming out of their noses and everyone says encouraging things to them because we all know.

Being a National Jewish patient is a sister and brotherhood of sorts. We all have made financial sacrifices to be here and feel not a small amount of guilt for using family resources on ourselves. But we want our best lives. Whether it’s the COPD patient who is able to take a short class between testing on how to have a sex life while on oxygen or if it’s a designer like me who just wants to figure out why I’m having so many infections, we know if there are answers to be found, we will find them here.

I decided to share this because I want to encourage anyone with respiratory illnesses that are not under control to consider coming to National Jewish. Life is short but sweeter indeed when you can breathe easily. In the evenings you’ll find me in the hotel with my 1963 Singer Featherweight working on a quilt for our soon-to-launch new fabric line because in spite of some bad genes I have many years of designing and making still ahead.