July is a very significant month for Susan Fischer and her family. Her son is getting married and her daughter is expecting her second child. While Fischer can’t wait for all of the excitement to unfold, she has a number of restrictions to deal with on a daily basis. She has severe emphysema, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is an ongoing and progressive disease that damages the lungs and makes breathing difficult. Fischer was determined to not let her condition slow her down during these important family milestones.
“I want to be able to dance at my son’s wedding,” said Fischer, a 65-year-old resident of Arlington Heights, IL. “That is my number one goal.”
For patients with COPD, even simple tasks such as walking short distances can leave them breathless – an activity as physically demanding as dancing is impossible for many. Determined to make her goal a reality, Fischer was encouraged when Northwestern Medicine® pulmonary disease experts recommended a treatment called lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS).
“Lung volume reduction surgery is a great option for select patients with severe emphysema,” said Malcolm DeCamp, MD, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is a surgical option to help people with severe emphysema gain a better quality of life and prolong life.”
LVRS is a procedure that removes approximately 20 to 35 percent of the lungs that are damaged by emphysema, allowing the remaining, relatively good lung to expand and work better. Researchers believe that by surgically removing functionally useless tissue, air will be able to move in and out of the remaining lung more quickly. The operation can be done through either a breast bone incision or smaller chest incisions using video-assisted thoracic surgical techniques.
“Susan was the ideal candidate for lung volume reduction surgery,” said Ravi Kalhan, MD, director of the asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease program at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor of medicine at the Feinberg School. “She has severe COPD, but she is also extremely motivated to do whatever it takes to improve her quality of life.”
“I was walking slowly on a treadmill the day after surgery and home in five days,” said Susan. “I could barely walk from the parking lot to the grocery store and was fighting for each breath before having lung volume reduction surgery. I have the best team at Northwestern who puts me at ease and has been with me every step of the way,” Susan said. “I know I’m at the right place.”
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, only behind heart disease and cancer; 12 million Americans are diagnosed with COPD. Currently, the only studied interventions that prolong life for patients with severe COPD are supplemental oxygen in people with low oxygen levels and LVRS in appropriately selected individuals.
“We have limited treatment options for COPD, but the ones we do have can make a huge difference in a person’s quality of life,” said DeCamp. “With continued research, treatment options for patients with chronic lung disease will continue to improve.”
Fischer’s story is an example of how the Northwestern Medicine team strives to individualize care plans to meet the personal needs and expectations of their patients. “Our goal is to form trust and partnership with our patients, offer therapeutic options that are in keeping with their goals and then together experience the satisfaction of a positive outcome,” said Kalhan. “With Susan, we knew she had one goal in mind and we shared that goal with her. I’m confident that she will dance at her son’s wedding.”
Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.
To learn more about the various treatment options for COPD, including LVRS, visit the Northwestern Memorial website. To make an appointment with a physician, call 312-926-0779.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital