Back in 1997, two years after moving to Chicago with her husband and three children, Tere Long noticed that routine household activities were leaving her exhausted and short of breath. Local doctors diagnosed Tere with allergy-induced asthma. She started taking traditional asthma medications, but they were only slightly effective.
After more than a decade of unsuccessful treatment, Tere reached her breaking point. "I was really having to think through every aspect of my day to limit climbing the stairs and overexerting myself," she says. In addition to shortness of breath and exhaustion, she developed severe tightness in her chest. Tere was tired of the disease controlling her life and decided to take charge.
Her doctor referred her to an asthma clinic where she underwent a bronchoscopy. When that test was inconclusive, Tere’s medical team recommended she be evaluated for a lung transplant.
Preparing for the worst, Tere and her husband thoroughly researched transplant programs in the U.S. They were both impressed with UPMC’s rich transplant history and made the decision to travel to Pittsburgh. After a full work-up, the transplant team was convinced that Tere’s lungs were salvageable, and referred her to Sally E. Wenzel, MD, a world-renowned asthma expert and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC.
"When you’re with Dr. Wenzel, you feel like you’re her only patient," Tere says.
Every few months, Tere traveled nearly 500 miles each way from Chicago to Pittsburgh to be closely monitored by Dr. Wenzel and her team. She was prescribed medications that helped ease her symptoms for a few years. But in 2013, after moving to St. Petersburg, Fla., her symptoms began to get worse.
Dr. Wenzel recommended Tere undergo a lung biopsy, which revealed autoimmune issues, and subsequently Sjögren’s Syndrome. This is a disease in which the immune system attacks the glands that make moisture for the body, including the lungs. Factoring in a previous diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, Dr. Wenzel put Tere on immunosuppressants to reduce her immune system’s errant attacks on her body. Dr. Wenzel also added a monthly injectable medicine to help prevent severe asthma attacks.
Since then, Tere’s symptoms have steadily improved to the point that she only visits Dr. Wenzel a few times a year. She doesn’t mind traveling 1,000 miles each way from Fla., because of the personalized care she receives. "When you’re with Dr. Wenzel, you feel like you’re her only patient," Tere says.
Last year, Tere went to Seattle, Wash. for the birth of her daughter’s twins. She spent nearly two months helping with everything from grocery shopping and laundry to bathing and caring for the babies. "Had I been asked to help out in the past, my asthma would have flared and I would have been a burden to my daughter instead of helping her," Tere says.
Back at home in St. Petersburg, Tere and her husband enjoy boating, fishing, community events, and outings with their dog, as well as caring for her daughter’s two horses.
"Now I don’t have to think about juggling the minutes of the day so I can function," she says. "Because of Dr. Wenzel I have my life back."
Tere’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.