Shortly after receiving an asthma diagnosis, retired nurse Becky Hollingsworth joined a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital, which found that Becky—and 33% of adults diagnosed with asthma—did not have the condition.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?
A couple years ago, my two pre-school aged grandchildren shared their colds with me. Although they recovered quickly, I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. After I recovered from pneumonia, I continued to have a cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. My family physician diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed both oral and inhaled medication. Her diagnosis was based on my history and current symptoms. Shortly after the diagnosis, I received an invitation to join a clinical trial for people recently diagnosed with asthma that was being run by Dr. Shawn Aaron, senior scientist and respirologist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. I eagerly accepted the invitation, as I am a great believer in clinical trials. During the clinical trial, it was determined that 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not, in fact, have it. I was one of those people. My lungs just needed more time to heal from the pneumonia.
Why does health research matter to you?
Without health research, doctors are “shooting in the dark” when diagnosing and prescribing. Without information from clinical trials, it is possible people will be given treatments that do not work and may be harmful. I am a retired nurse, and perhaps have a bias toward science when it comes to practicing medicine. One needs a correct diagnosis in order to determine the correct treatment. Because my physician thought I had asthma, she prescribed both oral and inhaled medication, which I could expect to have to take for the rest of my life.
No one wants to have a chronic illness. It has implications for several aspects of a person’s life, including the negative side effects of drugs, increased pharmacy expense (for the patient and/or the government) and limitations on travel. A misdiagnosis is even more distressing, as one is exposed to the issues mentioned above and the real medical problem, should there be one, can go undetected, and therefore untreated, and potentially lead to a medical crisis.
How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?
Without research, we are doomed to continue the same old practices. We want our health care to evolve. We want to know if accurate diagnoses are being made. We need to know if treatments work or if there are better treatments. We need to know the ramifications of treatments: are they more or less effective than other treatments, do they have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, are they safe? Through research, we move forward.
How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?
The results of Dr. Aaron’s asthma research left me thinking about the opportunities for educating both the general public and health professionals. The results were dramatic and received a great deal of publicity. Those of us involved in the media coverage made a point to talk about spirometry testing. Like a blood test to corroborate suspicion of diabetes, spirometry is a relatively simple way to measure lung capacity and volume. It gives important pulmonary function information that is of great benefit when diagnosing and treating people with conditions that affect breathing.
I live in a small community and have a high profile due to my past career, volunteer work, and my husband’s visibility. Everywhere I go, someone stops to tell me that they saw me on TV or heard me on the radio. They all have a story to tell about themselves, a friend, or a family member who has been diagnosed with asthma. After hearing that over 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not have it, they want to know if they or their friends or family should ask their doctors for spirometry testing. I encourage them to do so.
- Patients + Research: Nicole Brady
- Research Spotlight: The Ottawa Hospital
- Building a Healthier Ontario: Tina Ceroni’s Story
Add Your Voice
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