By Anthony Cook
45 years was enough!!
Over a lifetime, I had endured every type of medication and asthma treatment that was available. But it seemed that the older I got the less I reacted positively to the various asthma medications. My daily medical regime was daily Advair, daily albuterol. Also, I kept oxygen in my house, which I used about once a week, mostly during the spring and summer.
Two events stand out that were not so much life threatening as quality-of-life threatening. That is, the disease takes over your life and disturbs any normal plans and expectations you might have: The first was in 1990 when I had to be honorably medically discharged from the United States Air Force. Don’t ask me how an asthmatic could squeak past the recruitment process since I understand asthma is an automatic disqualifier for military service, and they were in full possession of my medical history. Regardless, a severe asthma attack led to a grand mal, hypoxic seizure, which was followed by a return to civilian life. Obviously a big disappointment to someone who had aspired to devote a considerable period of his life to serving his country, although I managed to fulfill this dream as a civilian (see bio).
The second time was a few years ago, my asthma symptoms became progressively worse and I ended up resigning from my job because I could neither sleep nor get a break from my symptoms. I was coughing for hours every day and none of the medications on the market were helping. During that time, I endured a bronchoscopy and noticed a lump in my chest, which led me to see a cancer specialist to see if I had a tumor. It was a pulled muscle, which was a relief. While this was unrelated to the asthma itself, I am telling you this to demonstrate not only the severity of my asthma but also its centrality in my thinking. When you have a chronic disease, somehow everything in your health comes around to it. Get a headache? Asthma. Get the sniffles? Asthma. Stub your toe? Asthma.
Then one day while in the waiting room of my doctor’s office I found a brochure for bronchial thermoplasty (BT) for asthma. I thought it might be the answer to my dreams. Unfortunately, I was too late to have the procedure at company expense as part of a clinical trial. But it wasn’t too late for me to do everything I could as a private patient. I even asked to be heard as a witness before a Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee hearing, which I did on the morning of October 28, 2009. This is what I told them:
MR. COOK: Dear ladies and gentlemen, I have no financial obligations/ties with Asthmatx or any company. I just have severe asthma. And I apologize–my throat is a little hoarse. It’s because speaking is a number one fear, and when you have asthma, it stresses you. I want to thank Mr. Neel, the FDA, for allowing me to speak.
I have tried every medication available on the market today. Unfortunately, none of these medications have helped or alleviated my asthma symptoms. My pulmonologists have worked painstakingly to help me with my asthma, but none of the available treatments have lessened my condition or offered relief in the long period of time.
Three years ago, I volunteered for the clinical trials for the bronchial thermoplasty. But the trials ended before I could get into the program. Everything I’ve read and heard about the bronchial thermoplasty is promising to someone like myself especially when you’ve tried everything from yoga to acupuncture in order to get relief from your asthma.
I had given up hope of ever getting relief for asthma. Then I read about ?? FDA Panel was going to vote on the bronchial thermoplasty procedure. Hope I’m pronouncing it correctly. I realize I’m only one person out of 40 million asthma sufferers, but I can assure you that if you approve the bronchial asthma thermoplasty, you could be helping a lot of people like myself. And I would consider this procedure even if it was a minor improvement to my asthma today. As you can tell, my chest tightens as I speak.
This year is going to be especially challenging for asthmatics like myself because of the various flu viruses going around. And having every medical procedure available to asthmatics is very important to us. I would like to thank you again for allowing me to speak and for your time and your consideration on this subject, which I think is very important. Thank you.
Fortunately for me, the procedure was approved. On May 7, 2010, I had bronchial thermoplasty, making me the first post-FDA approval patient to have BT for asthma. While I had the normal pre-operative jitters at the prospect of a heating element being thrust into my airways, I was also happy at the prospect of relief from decades of misery. It also helped that I was put into a kind of dream state. I could hear the doctor talking to me, but was very relaxed.
I felt the effects immediately. Since the BT procedure, I have not had one case of asthma and I am living a normal asthma-free life. I enjoy being outdoors without checking the pollen count religiously and no longer carry an inhaler or missing work due to asthma. I am living a better life. This new lease on life has given me the incentive to eat better, in preparation for living a longer, more fulfilling life than I once expected. I have lost 40 pounds through a combination of diet and exercise.
I am not a physician so I can only tell you that this procedure has been the closest experience I have had to a miracle. I run 5-Kilometer races and I am currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October for team Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics and must raise 500 dollars for this cause. But that is nothing compared to waking up every morning and going for a cup of coffee like a normal person instead of my inhaler. (Readers of this website are welcome to contribute!)
Anyone who has had asthma knows what if can do to your quality of life. They thirst for a “normal life”; that is basically what BT allows me to have, a normal life. Until the procedure, I was still a 98-pound weakling because of the asthma no matter how hard I pushed myself. I was still the little boy who was the last one to be picked for the kickball team.
No more. I am more productive at work and never miss days due to asthma. I am really enjoying this new-found health.
Tony Cook is originally from Washington, DC. He holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management and a Master’s Certificate Information Management. After being discharged from United States Air Force he worked as a civilian for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and volunteered for service in Iraq in 2003-2004. He spent 20 years at the DIA. Currently Tony works for the SCORE Association, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship, and is fluent in Spanish. He receives no compensation from the company that markets BT.