Health Headlines: “Lung washing” saves the life of woman with rare autoimmune disease

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Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 8:39 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Doctors managed to save the life of a woman with a rare autoimmune disease after months of unsuccessful treatments using a little-known procedure that restored 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.’”

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

Dr. Leslie Tolle is a pulmonologist with the Cleveland Clinic who explained the condition, “PAP stands for pulmonary alveolar proteinosis.”

It’s a condition that causes protein-filled fluid to block the lungs, slowly suffocating the patient.

Paula recalled the early phases of her treatment, saying, “Their first thought was 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.

Dr. Tolle says, “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.”

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

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

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