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How 'lung washing' saved this woman's life

When 40-year-old Paula Crider couldn't breath, doctors used a process called 'whole lung lavage' (or lung washing) to save her.

CLEVELAND — A rare autoimmune condition was slowly choking the life out of a 40-year-old mother of four. After months of unsuccessful treatments, doctors used a little-known procedure to restore her lungs to normal.

The Crider family was wrapping up an active Disney vacation in March of 2019 when Paula Crider could no longer ignore her extreme shortness of breath.

“The day before we left to come back home, Kaitlyn said to me, ‘Mom, your lips are blue’,” Crider recalls.

A nurse checked her blood oxygen level. Normal is a high of 90. Crider’s reading was 76. Ultimately, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune condition.

Crider was diagnosed with PAP, which stands for pulmonary alveolar proteinosis. PAP is a condition that causes protein-filled fluid to block the lungs, slowly suffocating the patient.

Crider says, “Their first thought was that I had to have a double lung transplant because I was so bad, and I just kept getting worse.”

Instead, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic used a procedure called whole lung lavage, also known as lung “washing.” During the procedure, doctors attach one lung to a ventilator, then pump a saline solution into the other lung.

“They keep doing that liter, and liter, and liter, and liter, and liter, and liter until the fluid coming out is the same color as the fluid going in, which is to say clear,” Leslie Tolle, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, explains.

Crider was determined to fight the PAP without missing a beat. In fact, she completed her master’s degree during a month-long hospital stay, graduating with a perfect 4.0.

“I am oxygen-free, for right now. It’s been amazing,” Crider expresses.

PAP is considered an “orphan,” or extremely rare disease, affecting one in 100 thousand people worldwide. It’s estimated that 10,000 people in the United States have the rare disease.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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