Kara Haines' Story

The impact from a minor car accident revealed a lung condition that Kara Haines would spend the next two decades fighting. Right after the accident, Kara started wheezing and coughing up what looked like pieces of stone.

A chest x-ray showed that Kara had calcification in her upper-right lung. The stone-like calcium deposits were likely knocked loose from the impact of the seat belt on her chest and pushed through the airway. Kara’s doctors told her to take a “wait-and-see approach.”

She moved to South Carolina from Colorado, but her condition didn’t improve. “A year after the accident, I had surgery to remove the upper lobe of my right lung,” she says.

Doctors in South Carolina suspected that Kara might have histoplasmosis, an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus that most commonly occurs in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. Kara spent her early childhood in Ohio, and she may have been exposed during that time.

For six years after the surgery, Kara’s health improved. After another move, the symptoms started again – and got worse.

“When we moved to New Mexico, I started to have chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, night sweats and low-grade fevers,” Kara says.

She saw a pulmonologist in nearby Durango, Colo., who recommended that Kara come to National Jewish Health.

Marvin Pomerantz, MD, from our sister-institution, University of Colorado Health, determined that the middle lobe of Kara’s right lung had died from the infection. At National Jewish Health, Esther L. Langmack, MD, an associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, led her care and treatment.

Kara underwent surgery to remove the lobe and spent three weeks recovering in the hospital.

“I went home to New Mexico to pick up the pieces of my life,” Kara says.

And, life went on as normal for the next nine months until a “scary” episode put her in the intensive care unit.

“I started coughing up blood,” she says. “I had an infection with a pretty nasty fungus called aspergillus.”

A few months later, Kara returned to National Jewish Health where she was referred to the Division of Mycobacterial and Respiratory Infections. She was seen by Gwen Huitt, MD, and Michael Iseman, MD.

“It was the worst-case scenario,” she says. “The infection had gotten into my chest wall.”

She underwent six weeks of treatment with antifungal medications before having the rest of her right lung removed.

Kara endured a challenging recovery because her chest had to be left open for nearly seven weeks. Every day, doctors packed the opening with gauze and a solution to clean out the infection from the chest wall.

“I remember Dr. Iseman came in on Christmas Day to change my gauze,” Kara says. “The facility, staff and care are stellar. For as big as the hospital is, I never felt like a number. I felt like they knew me personally.”

When the infection healed, Kara was finally able to go home. She returned to National Jewish Health for annual checkups for three years, and has not had a recurrence of the infection.

Kara is thankful for the care she received that finally put her on the path to long-term health. “I owe my life to National Jewish Health. If I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t be here to play with my grandson.”