2005 Clinical Trial Gives Area Patient Gift of More Time

In 2012, Nancy Hughes’ daughter saw an advertisement in the newspaper seeking participants who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for a clinical trial. She immediately thought of her mom.

“My younger daughter called and suggested the trial – she thought it might help,” said Nancy Hughes of Sherman who suffered from breathing issues and COPD. “I got brave and called.”

Hughes, now 78, started taking all the required testing with logistics assistance from the office staff of Stephen Hazelrigg, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Many of the tests were breathing related, and she passed each new battery of tests until finally she was scheduled for the valve procedure. Even then, she was not assured she would receive the new valve. Hughes remembers waking up from the procedure and seeing a big thumbs-up from her daughter as she was being transferred to her room.

“It was a success,” she said. “I was the only person who passed all the tests, and I was the sole receiver of this valve. For five years, Dr. Hazelrigg and his team followed my progress. I enjoyed a lot better breathing for a long time because of the trial.”

She also appreciates how the trial bought her extra time and gave her added independence from the oxygen tank. She went from having to use it during the day to only at night. She and her daughter traveled to Montana for a weeklong vacation after the trial that would not have been possible beforehand. Since then, she continues to exercise in outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation, and she has spoken to pulmonary support groups. Now that the procedure has been approved, she encourages people to reach out to Dr. Hazelrigg’s office for more information.

The moment she knew her life had changed came when she found her dog Tulla, a little Westie, who had disappeared down into the basement. When Nancy found her, she carried her up a flight of stairs.

“She weighed 23 or 24 pounds, and I walked up the whole set of steps with her in my arms,” Nancy said. “That’s when I knew it had worked. I wasn’t even breathing heavy!”