Charlenes Story

Interventional pulmonologist removes large tumor from COPD patient’s trachea

Charlene Hall ended up in the emergency room on her way home from a vacation in South Carolina.

A second opinion at University Hospitals saved two generations in Charlene Hall’s family.

Exhausted last winter from a worsening pulmonary condition, this busy grandmother who works multiple jobs didn’t have the energy to put up a Christmas tree or buy presents. A lifelong smoker recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), she received standard treatments, unaware that a tumor growing in her trachea was steadily closing her airway.

An astute pulmonologist with special training in advanced procedures found and removed a tumor in Charlene’s trachea the size of a ping pong ball – a mass missed by numerous other hospitals until she came to the one with advanced pulmonary capabilities. Her tumor is so rare that only 1 in 2.6 million patients experience it, according to National Cancer Institute estimates.

A tumor on her trachea, discovered by UH physicians, was severely limiting her ability to capture air into her lungs – and making it impossible to push her granddaughter’s stroller.

“She was literally breathing through a slit,” said Benjamin Young, MD, an interventional pulmonologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center who performed a rigid bronchoscopy to excise the tumor. “We were able to quickly excise the tumor and re-establish a passageway for air to reach her lungs.”

The previous nine months had been a blur of doctor’s appointments at other hospitals, including one on the way home from a road trip to South Carolina. Charlene was treated repeatedly for sinus infections and given antibiotics, inhalers and steroids. She had so much trouble breathing, as she gasped and wheezed through coughing fits, that she started sleeping sitting upright in a chair.

Her will to live deteriorated as the tumor grew.

Second Opinion, Second Chance

Benjamin Young, MD, a pulmonologist who did a fellowship in advanced procedures, removed a tumor the size of a ping pong ball that was blocking 95 percent of her airway. Charlene underwent radiation treatment at UH Seidman Cancer Center.

The Lakewood woman never forgot how UH had saved her mother’s life two decades earlier, when she was diagnosed with liver cancer at another hospital and sent home to die. Charlene quickly secured an appointment for her mother at UH. Three months later, her mother received a liver transplant – and traveled and enjoyed her family for another 11 years.

“She was able to live a very nice life, thanks to UH,” says Charlene, 58. “Now God has given me a second chance at life, and I’m not about to screw it up.”

Charlene underwent nearly six weeks of radiation treatment at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center following removal of the tumor. She appreciates the “angels” who supported her through treatment, and the “wonderful, incredible surgeon who saved my life.”

She quit smoking, an addictive habit she now calls “the dumbest thing I ever did.” She has returned to work, can walk across a room without losing her breath and no longer needs medication.

“I feel like a new person. I was lucky I went to UH.”