A New Breath at Life
February 6, 2023
Karen Haggard, a 58-year-old, Science Hill, KY native had been struggling with breathing issues for several months before seeking advice from her primary care provider.
“I had been suffering from shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and wheezing,” explained Karen. “My doctor thought it was asthma, so appropriately prescribed medications and treatment to manage it.”
After five weeks of treatment, Karen hadn’t gotten any relief, so at her next appointment, she was referred to a local allergist who completed breathing tests and allergy tests, hoping to find out a little more about Karen’s issue.
“After all the testing, the allergist didn’t really know what it was, but didn’t think it was due to allergies or asthma,” said Karen. “They ended up sending me to the cardiopulmonary department at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital for more breathing tests and they determined I wasn’t getting enough air into the small airways of my lungs. The next steps were to go back to the allergist, hoping they could figure out what was going on.”
One cold and snowy winter morning, Karen had gotten up that morning experiencing a bad flare-up of symptoms. Thinking it was due to the weather and maybe an upper respiratory infection, she called and made an urgent appointment with her doctor.
“On the way to the appointment, I experienced an extremely bad episode. I felt like I couldn’t even get enough air to speak,” said Karen. “As soon as I got to the office, she examined me and said she didn’t know what was going on and if she knew how to help me, she would, but my heart and lungs were only going to be able to take that type of breathing for so long. She told me I needed to go straight to the ER at Lake Cumberland.”
After various tests and imaging, the answers still weren’t there. Karen’s lungs were not the problem, meaning they’d have to look elsewhere.
“The ER physician asked about my history and suggested that we check my throat,” said Karen. “They ordered a CT scan of my neck and determined there was something in there and they’d have to call in the ENT specialist. That was when I met Dr. Vaughn.”
Dr. Andrew Vaughn is a board-certified otolaryngologist at Lake Cumberland. An otolaryngologist is a specialist that treats issues in the ears, nose, or throat as well as related areas in your head and neck. After further investigation from Dr. Vaughn, Karen was diagnosed with subglottic stenosis (SGS) which is a narrowing of the airway below the vocal cords and above the trachea. This narrowing is often caused by scarring in the larynx just below the vocal cords.
“After the scope, Dr. Vaughn said I would have to have surgery the next day. I was kind of in shock, I didn’t expect to have to need surgery. I thought I was going to go in and they were going to give me some medication and I’d be sent home,” said Karen. “I was very nervous and hesitant about the whole thing. Dr. Vaughn said if I didn’t want to do it here, he would send me wherever I wanted to go, but it had to come out. I was glad I decided to stay with him.”
As if finding out that surgery was needed wasn’t enough, Karen’s COVID test results came back positive. But despite the test results, Karen’s surgery needed to go along as planned. “Honestly, I feel like COVID is probably what put me where I needed to be,” said Karen.
Dr. Vaughn sat down with Karen and her husband and explained the procedure and everything that she could expect before, during, and after. The next day, Karen underwent a bronchoscopy and dilation of the stenosis. The bronchoscopy consists of a thin, flexible, lighted tube inserted into the nose or mouth. It is moved down the trachea and into the airways, allowing the physician to see the voice box, trachea, and large airways to the lungs. A balloon is used to dilate the stenotic region and enabled Dr. Vaughn to remove scar tissue that had built up, causing Karen’s problems.
“Before the procedure, Dr. Vaughn explained to me that I would end up having a trach,” explained Karen. “He said it would be temporary and I’d only have it for a couple of months, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided. He explained everything to me and was very thorough, explaining what was going on and what to expect.”
Karen spent five days at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, recovering from surgery in the COVID ICU. “I have absolutely no complaints at all on anyone at the hospital, my experience was great,” said Karen. “The team of nurses and doctors were wonderful. They couldn’t have been any better to me than they were during my stay.”
Following the procedure and her discharge from the hospital, Karen lived with a trach for a couple of months and had several follow-up appointments with Dr. Vaughn at Lake Cumberland Medical Associates Ear, Nose, & Throat.
“I still see Dr. Vaughn for follow-up appointments,” said Karen. “Everyone in the office is very friendly, professional, and courteous. Dr. Vaughn is fantastic, his personality is great, and he puts you at ease. It seems like he is always in a good mood. From the first time I saw him in the ER, he just felt like one of those people you just kind of feel like you already know.”
Karen says her breathing has greatly improved and despite having the trach temporarily, she feels like she pretty much went back to normal after the procedure. “Before the procedure, I had trouble even carrying on a conversation, I’d have to stop and catch my breath in the middle of a sentence,” said Karen. Now that her health is back on track, Karen is looking forward to spending more time outdoors, enjoying her family and her cats. She is grateful to be able to move on with her life, without constantly worrying about her breathing. As Karen focuses on living her best life going forward, she says, “I’m just so thankful. Things are a lot better now.”
Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital provides full-service ear, nose, and throat care including traditional ENT surgeries, such as tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies, as well as more advanced treatments and procedures such as, pituitary surgery, nasal valve reconstruction, and thyroidectomies. For more information on ENT services provided at Lake Cumberland, visit LakeCumberlandHospital.com/ear-nose-throat.