The Pulmonary Hypertension Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the largest, most comprehensive pulmonary hypertension center in the state. It is one of the largest centers for chronic thromboembolic disease in the Midwest and one of the few centers in the region to offer pulmonary thromboendarterectomy as a treatment option for chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension.
“We have been in existence since the 1990s, and we are the only center in the state that has been certified by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association as a program of comprehensive care. That involved a review process, and we met all the criteria,” said Vallerie McLaughlin, MD, director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program. “We have three highly trained physicians and three highly trained clinical nurses that have been doing this for years. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
The center has dedicated research and clerical staff, and the program’s clinical team liaises closely with other U-M specialties, including radiology, infectious diseases, rheumatology and pulmonary. The full-service center, which works closely with patient support groups, is very patient-oriented.
Dr. McLaughlin said few clinicians have the expertise needed to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare disease. “We have everything needed to take care of these patients,” she said. “Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a complex disease, and most clinicians don’t have very much experience with it. Collaborative care with a pulmonary hypertension center—such as ours—and local physicians is in a patient’s best interest. Early referral is key and leads to improved outcomes.”
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS
A congenital heart defect, heart valve problems or other health issues can trigger pulmonary hypertension (PH). When there are no other underlying heart and lung disease or other illnesses, it is called primary pulmonary hypertension. Primary PH is reported most often in women between ages 21 and 40. Pulmonary hypertension can make everyday activities exhausting and lead to life-threatening heart failure.
Patients with PH may experience:
- Shortness of breath
Comprehensive evaluation with right-heart catheterization, a pulmonary function test, a ventilation perfusion lung scan to measure air and blood flow to the lungs, and heart tests can lead to the right diagnosis and treatment options.
“ Collaborative care with a pulmonary hypertension center—such as ours—and local physicians is in a patient’s best interest. Early referral is key and leads to improved outcomes.”
—Vallerie McLaughlin, MD
MEET KATIE MEZWA
BACK ON THE FIELD
Katie Mezwa, an active 22-year old, first noticed her symptoms on the lacrosse field. Her journey took many months to understand the causes behind her blurry vision, fatigue and chest pain during routine practice. With shortness of breath as the main symptom, pulmonary hypertension is often misdiagnosed. Katie’s on-field performance was in trouble because of the high blood pressure in the loop of vessels connecting her heart and lungs.
With treatment led by Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin, director of the University of Michigan Pulmonary Hypertension Program, Katie manages her pulmonary hypertension with a daily calcium channel blocker to help dilate her blood vessels for easier blood flow.
While a rare disease, researchers are taking a closer look at the molecular basis for PH and testing easier- to-use drugs that can signal vasodilation in the blood vessels in the lungs and improve heart function.
Since the diagnosis, Katie says she’s focusing on living a normal life, which includes playing for the University of Michigan Women’s Club Lacrosse team as the team earned its first national title. Katie earned the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division 1 Player of the Year Award.
“To me, that award is a testament to my hard work and dedication, and a great reminder that even a heart condition can’t hold me back,” says the 2015 U-M graduate whose future goals involve improving global health.