Unique Expertise at UC Leads Patient to Diagnosis, Better Quality of Life

In September 2013, Dan Schmidtz, 65, a Fairfield Township resident, began experiencing shortness of breath which progressively got worse.

A trip to the emergency department revealed that he had fluid in the sac around his heart, which was drained, and then he was sent home.

However, the problems didn’t stop there.

“I was hospitalized four or five times after that initial hospitalization for fluid in the sacs around my lungs,” he says. “Physicians at the hospital I was going to at the time thought I had a virus or undiagnosed pneumonia. I went to the Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion, but they thought it had to do with a heart condition. I was also told I had pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs and chest). Physicians even suggested a procedure where they would insert powder in the lung sac to prohibit the collection of fluids, which I was later told could have made my situation much worse.

“I knew these diagnoses and suggested treatments weren’t right, and I was getting frustrated and discouraged.”

A friend of Schmidtz’s wife Karen suggested UC, and in January 2014, that’s where he went.

“I was admitted with fluid on my left lung again the day I came in,” he says, vividly recalling the day he met Sadia Benzaquen, MD, assistant professor at the UC College of Medicine and UC Health interventional pulmonologist. “There were three doctors in the room, and one of them began reading my lung pressures out loud. Dr. Benzaquen began charting these numbers on a graph, and I wondered what in the world he was doing, but at the end of it all, he looked at me and said, ‘I know what you have. You have trapped lung.’

“I asked the other physician, ‘Who is that guy?’ I wanted to give him a hug.”

Interventional pulmonology focuses on the use of advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to treat patients with lung cancer, pleural disease and other advanced airway disorders. Benzaquen is currently the only highly trained and board-certified interventional pulmonologist in the area, and UC is the home to this specialized program.

Trapped lung, also known as unexpandable/unexpanded lung, is a term used where a fibrous membrane develops around the lung sac and hinders it from re-expanding once fluid is removed.

Schmidtz says Sandra Starnes, MD, John B. Flege, Jr. Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery and chief of cardiothoracic surgery and UC Health thoracic surgeon, performed the procedure to remove the membrane, known as a “peel,” in March 2014. While the procedure is quite invasive, involving thoracotomy, an incision into the pleural space of the chest, and spreading of the ribs, it seems to have worked, and Schmidtz says he hasn’t experienced shortness of breath since the procedure.

“It’s been quite a recovery process, but I have been getting progressively better as time marches on. Now, I can do things I haven’t been able to do in a long time, like go to the gym or walk or even just go shopping,” he says, adding that he has a large family with which he enjoys spending time.

“I had such a supportive team working together for me at UC, between the lung experts and my cardiologists, I couldn’t ask for better. Dr. (Tehmina) Naz, my cardiologist, told me when I first got to UC that she wouldn’t give up, and she—as well as the rest of the team—never did. The follow-up experience with UC has been great … encouraging, supportive and caring.

“I want others to know about the expertise available right here in Cincinnati. They told me what other experts couldn’t, and my life has improved because of it.”

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