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Clearing the Airway

Unique Rush center provides comprehensive care for interrelated airway diseases

Since 2005, Garry Duber had suffered from sinus problems that robbed him of his sense of smell and caused sinus infections every two or three months. It got to the point that he couldn’t breathe through his nose or sleep lying down.

Eventually, the medications he was taking for them triggered another infection, C difficile, which became life-threatening. “I was knocking on the door.  I lost 45 pounds in about a month and a half,” Duber says.  

He sought out Pete Batra, MD, professor and chairperson of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at Rush, who told Duber he had complete blockage of his sinuses and needed surgery to clear them.

Duber agreed, “and it 100 percent worked,” he says. “I have not been sick since the day of the surgery, no issues whatsoever.”

In addition, Batra diagnosed Duber with asthma and referred him to a specialist at Rush for additional treatment that brought it under control. “I can breathe,” he says.

Center brings together specialists in multiple areas to provide comprehensive care

Duber is one of the millions of people who suffer from chronic airway diseases such as sinusitisallergiesasthma and sleep apnea. As in Duber’s case, these diseases often are interrelated — many people suffer from more than one of these conditions, and because they all involve the airway, each condition can affect the severity of the others. They can cause a complex combination of symptoms – such as persistent sinus pain and pressure, breathing problems, sleep disturbances and coughing – that can severely affect quality of life.

To help these patients, this fall Rush University Medical Center launched the Rush Center for Airway Diseases, which provides comprehensive care for interrelated airway conditions. It is the first program of its kind in Illinois.

“People with one or more of these conditions often find themselves visiting one medical specialist after another in the quest for the correct relief and treatment they need,” Batra says. “Complex conditions require a team of experts who can apply their extensive training and knowledge to benefit each unique individual.”

The Rush Center for Airway Diseases brings together specialists in the following areas:

These specialists use their expertise collectively to diagnose and address all co-existing airway conditions using a comprehensive and coordinated approach at the center, and each patient is assessed to determine which specialists are needed. The patient’s personal care team plans and coordinates all treatments.

“The close cooperation and (communication) is very important for the care of the patient. Getting the patient to see the right specialist is much faster and more efficient when we work together,” says Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, MD, PhD, an allergist and immunologist at Rush and an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.

The team partners with the patient’s existing primary care doctor, referring physician or outside specialists, as needed. “The Rush doctors are keeping my internist (primary care physician) informed,” says Barbara Rosiello. “It’s a really good, coordinated team effort.”

‘The skill of the physicians is wonderful’

Rosiello had suffered from sinus headaches her entire life, and four years ago her problems spiraled downward. She was diagnosed with adult onset asthma, multiple allergies, and bronchiectasis (damage to the breathing tubes in the lungs) and treated with heavy doses of antibiotics and prednisone, a steroid with severe side effects.

 She’s greatly improved since Batra performed sinus surgery on her in November of 2016. “Magically I wasn’t getting sinus infections. I wasn’t getting the sinus pressure that I would have and the sinus headaches,” Rosiello says.

She’s been able to greatly reduce the amount of antibiotics she’s taking and is tapering down her use of prednisone, with a goal of being off it by the end of the year.

“The quality of care that I received at Rush has been excellent,” she says. “The skill of the physicians is wonderful.”

The need for this kind of care is great and growing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the prevalence of asthma among adults and children has increased over the last decade to approximately 26.5 million; the number of diagnosed respiratory allergies among children is 7.6 million; and the number of adults with diagnosed sinusitis is 26.9 million.

“Trying to coordinate (care for) allergy, asthma, sinus disease and sleep (apnea) is very unique,” Batra says. “I hope this can be a model for how we manage these patients with upper airway diseases across the country.”

Caregivers at the Rush Center for Airway Diseases see patients at multiple locations, including Rush University Medical Center, Rush Oak Park Hospital and Rush South Loop, and also will provide care at the Rush Oak Brook location clinic opening in winter 2019. For more information, call (312) 563-ARWY (2799) or visit the center’s web page.

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