Ms. Bryan shared her story with me and it gave me such hope and inspiration, I feel compelled to share with my readers. Especially those who live in the Southeast and Atlanta area.
My name is Whitney Bryan. I’m 29 years old and am now a Registered Respiratory Therapist, this is my story. On January 6 of 2007, I was in a very bad car accident involving myself getting hit by 2 cars, t-boned by the first who ran a red-light and hit again by the second. Both of these were trucks and I was in my brand new Mazda 6. A pregnant woman who was training to be a CNA at the time (who I have become friends with and is now a RN) witnessed the first strike of the t-bone and stopped to try to help until emergency responders arrived. That’s when the second truck hit me and pushed my car over the woman and catching her hair in the tires and dragging her several feet, her and the baby both survived God bless them.
Once the responders arrived, I was cut from the car using the “jaws of life” and life flighted to the nearest trauma center in Gainsville, Florida Shands at the University of Florida about 50 miles away. On top of several internal injuries of a lacerated liver, kidney, bladder, and spleen, shattered pelvis and 3 broken ribs, I also had a collapsed lung so was intubated and put on a ventilator. After about a week or week and a half they gave several unsuccessful attempts at weaning me off the ventilator, they decided to give me a tracheostomy to continue ventilation. I came off the ventilator within the next week. After some more therapy and follow-ups on that and my other injuries, the trach was removed and allowed to heal and close on it’s own. After 5 weeks in the hospital and 2 weeks in rehab, I finally returned home mid February in a wheelchair which I was out of after about 3 months of physical therapy and healing.
Through this whole process all of my Dr.s kept saying how they couldn’t believe how quickly and well I was recovering. By April or May ’07 I would say, I started having trouble with my breathing so I scheduled a visit with my pulmonologist from my accident. He set up a bronchoscopy and when he did it he found excessive granulation(scar) tissue where my trach healed up causing tracheal stenosis(narrowing of the airway). He told me I had what was called hypertrophic scarring, which means my body produces lots of excess scar tissue. He said he performed a dilatation(dilation) where they stretch your throat open with a balloon making your airway larger and applied and antibiotic which should help suppress the growth. Well that didn’t hold very long and after a few more of those procedures he scheduled a tissue removal that would be performed by himself and ENT colleagues. That was towards the end of ’07 and I believe I had 1 more dilatation in the beginning of ’08, but it held well after that.
I had minimal difficulty with my breathing unless strenuous exertion but my breathing was more audible than others even at rest though I didn’t have difficulty with it, until the beginning of 2012. Building up to that point, I had started going to school in Fall 2008. I started with the basic prereqs knowing I wanted to do something in the medical field after having had received so much help myself from my accident, but not sure of what so started researching programs at my school. That’s when I came across the perfect choice for me given all my previous issues, Respiratory Therapy. The catalog said it was offered at a nearby school and that they were in partnership with it. I knew right then that was the one for me. I finished my prereqs and transferred to my new school for my program in Fall 2009, and graduated in May of 2011. I passed my national boards shortly after that and am now a Registered Respiratory Therapist just approaching completion of my first 2 years of employment in October.
Back to 2012, after starting work in October 2011, by the beginning of ’12 I began noticing having difficulty breathing again so I contacted my Pulmonologist who set up another scope and confirmed the tissue was back. After him telling me the hospital’s CO2 laser was currently down, and 3 dilatations between February and September, in October I could tell there was something very wrong. I contacted him and after yet another scope, he proceeded to tell me the many dilatations have now lead to malacia (floppiness) of 2-3 tracheal cartilage rings; meaning that when I inhale, that negative pressure sucks my throat shut, and that I would need a tracheal resection surgery to remove the damaged part of my throat and he would be consulting with colleagues to find someone with expertise because that type of surgery is not common. In the mean time, I found a group for people with tracheal stenosis on Facebook. I met several people on there and we traded stories, and after sharing with one lady in particular, Mrs. Jean Martin Bowles, and telling her my Dr was researching she gave me the name of her Dr. She told me he was the best in the Southeast, which I later found out was true, Dr. William Grist at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.
She gave me the info and I forwarded it to my Pulmonologist and the rest was history. He said he would be happy to send me there and he thought that Atlanta would have been the closest place that would have any expertise anyway because he was finding nothing here in Florida. I was scheduled a consultation with Dr. Grist on November 5, 2012. After seeing me, he said with my case being so severe and me driving 5 hours just to get there, he would admit me and perform the surgery the next day. He performed the surgery on the 6th, removing 3cm of my trachea, and kept me for follow-up/observation. On Thursday the 29th it was so bad I couldn’t sleep, I finally sent him an email at 4am Friday morning letting him know my problems and concerns. At 7am he emailed me back asking if I could I make it there today and how soon, I said yes and was there by 3:30ish. He performed an emergency scope and surgery where he performed tissue removal along with dilatation and antibiotic and steroid injection. He said my body had rejected the sutures where sewn shut and my trachea split, not enough for and air leak, but enough for that granulation tissue to grow. That was on Friday November 30, he kept me for the weekend so he could rescope and follow-up the following Tuesday and I wouldn’t have to make the drive again. I stayed the weekend and come Monday, 2 of my Dr.’s residents along with another Dr. entered my room and proceeded to tell me my Dr. had been in an accident and this Dr would be doing my follow-up scope this coming Wednesday instead of Tuesday. He performed the scope and said everything looked good and discharged me.
After about a week I started having difficulty breathing again and contacted one of the residents by email, she responded and told me my Dr was still out and gave me the info for the Dr who would be taking over my case, Dr. Johns, a colleague of Dr. Grist. I contacted him n he made me an office visit where he just used the laryngoscope there in his office to see if there was tissue which indeed there was. He set up an out patient surgery for December 18 where he scoped me and performed tissue removal, steroid and antibiotic injection to help suppress the growth of the tissue. He told me the body’s full healing process usually takes from 6-8 months on average so it’s possible the tissue will continue to grow back until fully healed and scheduled another out patient scope in the OR in 4 weeks and he also started me one prednisone(steroids), antibiotics, and antacids. 4 weeks was just enough for the first time because I’m not sure if I would have made it much longer. I could tell the tissue was back though not quite as bad as the first time. So in January he did the same procedures and continued scheduling me every 4 weeks though February and March. Meanwhile between visits I would monitor myself with my peak flow meter which measures how much air you can blow out in on big breath to help me keep tabs on when the tissue was starting to grow back. Each time I went he showed me the pictures he’d taken while in my throat so I could see the progression and said it was getting better and better each time. In March he said it looked much better so let’s do one last time of 8 weeks this time and if everything looked good maybe that would be it. I was so happy to hear that after struggling with these types of problems for 6 years! So my last visit on May 7 of this year, I went to see him for hopefully would be one last time. I felt like this was it, I hadn’t had any problems and my peak flows were just as good as they were right after surgeries, I had even started working out at the gym, but I was still very nervous and anxious. They took me back and put me out, when I came to they told me I had only been back in the OR for a total of 8 minutes or so and he was only in my throat for about 3. They said he put the scope in, said everything looked great and he wasn’t going to touch it, and pulled it back out and sent me to recovery. After waking from a nap in recovery, the Dr came and told me that everything looked great, no tissue at all. He said everything had calcified and though that does make my airway about 50% of what it should be, since I told him
I have been going to the gym and such that he knows it will not be debilitating or affect my quality of life and to contact him if I ever have any more problems, but he hopes not to see me again and well wishes. Truly one of the happiest days of my life!!! My struggle after 6 years is finally over! I know there are always possibilities in any circumstance, and if I come to that path I will cross it because I am a strong woman and have already overcome so much, but I hope that day never comes. Now I love my new career as a RRT working in the hospital taking care of patients and have so much compassion for them since I have been through so much myself! I hope this story has helped and touched many of you and I hope to continue to do so. I think there should be more awareness made of TS because it is becoming more and more common these days and there is not much expertise. I will continue to share and do anything I can to assist in this, and hope the public becomes more aware of this condition and people struggling with it.