Kerry Bielen had a tough time breathing and was constantly coughing until she came under the care of Amr F. Bacil, M.D., a pulmonologist at Marshfield Clinic Weston Center.
Kerry Bielen, Wausau
“He was my life-saver,” she said. “It was like night and day because I had such a tremendous improvement.” Bielen, 56, credits her newfound breathing capability not only to the specialized medications Dr. Bacil prescribed, but also his positive attitude.
“I thought I’d be forever doomed to sitting 24-7 on oxygen,” she said. “But he told me ‘you can get better’ and gave me an incentive to be more regular in taking my medications. He said I wouldn’t need the oxygen if I stuck to it.”
Bielen suffered for years with symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Her chronic coughing was the most noticeable of her symptoms, but she also had difficulty just getting up the stairs to her second-floor apartment in Wausau.
“I would come up the stairs and have to plug in to my oxygen concentrator or I wouldn’t be able to take another breath,” she recalled. The oxygen unit now sits mostly unused and she’s finding it easier to do household tasks like mopping the floor or doing dishes. She’s now able to spend more time on her job as a sales representative for Jafra Cosmetics International, which she’s been doing for 35 years. In recent years, she has had to do business via telephone because of her disability.
Dr. Bacil said Bielen’s COPD was severe, based on her performance on a spirometry test, which measures a patient’s ability to forcibly exhale air from the lungs.
“She is a fairly typical patient,” he said. “The most severe patients must be put on oxygen and undergo pulmonary rehabilitation. She was already doing better after just days on more powerful inhaled steroids and a bronchodilator.
For her, this fall and winter season was the first in some time that she did not have her annual bout with bronchitis. It would get so severe she couldn’t even talk. Three years ago, she helped chaperone a trip to New York City’s Carnegie Hall with her son’s choir from Mosinee High School.
“People who were there will remember me,” she recalled. “They told me I didn’t look good and was turning blue in the face, and I couldn’t keep up with them. But now I’m feeling better than I have in years.”
Like many COPD patients, Bielen was hooked on cigarettes and smoked one pack per day. She admits she hasn’t been able to completely quit, as Dr. Bacil counsels all his patients to do, but she said she has cut way back. With the help of a medication he prescribed for her, Chantix, she hopes to eliminate the urge to smoke. That would be key to her permanent recovery, Dr. Bacil said, in addition to doing special exercises to strengthen her breathing muscles and make her lungs more efficient. He’s gotten her attention with the improvement so far.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I had a chance,” recalling how she almost didn’t take the second-floor apartment because of the steps. “Now, I’m up and down those steps like nobody’s business.”