COPD: Second opinion, second chance of life
Lisa Brown, aged 41 and a grandmother of four, started experiencing shortness of breath one autumn. As the weather got colder and her symptoms got worse, she went to the doctor who issued her with an inhaler to help her breathing.
Due to her young age and the fact that she had never smoked, it was initially suggested that she was suffering from anxiety and that the shortness of breath was caused by panic attacks. However, following two admissions to casualty that winter, doctors investigated her condition further and confirmed a diagnosis of emphysema, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When Lisa left intensive care, after her second admission to A&E, she had with a severely damaged left lung and her right lung had lost three quarters of its capacity. Lisa’s consultant told her there was little that he could do to repair her lungs, and that surgery was too high a risk.
Within four months of first experiencing symptoms, Lisa’s condition had deteriorated so much that she was unable to walk or talk. Finding it hard to eat, her weight had plummeted, making her a shell of her former fit and healthy self.
“The feeling of breathlessness was terrible,” Lisa laments. “The way I describe it is trying to breathe through a straw – or that feeling you get when you’re underwater, struggling for breath and trying to reach the surface.”
Wheelchair-bound and barely seven stone, Lisa made the decision not to give up. She searched online for a lung expert and came across Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Specialist Care. She booked an appointment as a private patient with consultant thoracic surgeon, Professor Eric Lim, who organised for surgery to be performed the following week.
Professor Lim performed minimally invasive surgery on both Lisa’s lungs, using a single keyhole to remove the abnormal air sacs that were preventing her lungs from expanding fully. The following day, Lisa was able to get up and walk for the first time in months.
Speaking of her recovery, Lisa says: “I can breathe now, I can walk upstairs without writing notes for my children to do things for me. I can go back to kick-boxing!”
“It is like a miracle has happened, from being so ill to coming back to life,” she said. “If I had not got a second opinion I wouldn’t be speaking to you now.”
“Coming to Royal Brompton literally saved my life.”
Professor Lim said: “It is extremely pleasing to hear that Lisa is doing well following surgery. She was originally presumed to have a diagnosis of shortness of breath due to severe emphysema and certainly the initial scans supported this.”
“However, when we operated we found that her lungs appeared normal, but were squashed by large air-filled sacs located mainly outside of the lungs. After successfully removing the abnormal air sacs, her normal lung was able to re-expand fully in her chest.”