Med Center Doctors Turn Attention to Rare Fatal Disease

Doctors in the Texas medical center are trying to raise awareness about a rare but deadly disease called pulmonary hypertension. Little is known about the fatal condition and there is no cure.

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Shirley Craig has pulmonary hypertension. It's a disease that is a death sentence; most people with PH die within five years of diagnosis. Craig is one of the luckly ones whose body has withstood the deterioration of PH.

Pulmonary hypertension usually affects women of child-bearing age. But men and children are susceptible as well. The disease is a blood vessel disorder. Pressure rises in the pulmonary artery which leads from the lungs to the heart. As the pressure increases, the vessels narrow and constrict and can lead to an enlarged heart and eventually heart failure. Jack Stibbs is the chairman of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.

Stibbs' daughter was diagnosed with PH at the age of five. With the help of medication she is now an active 13-year-old. But the disease is still fatal and Congressman Kevin Brady says there needs to be more research about what causes PH and how to treat it. Brady co-authored a bill to provide $50 million per year for five years to fund medical research. He says the first goal will be to develop Centers of Excellence to support basic and clinical research into PH.

The final and most important goal of the funding Brady says is to find a cure. He says the bill has 240 sponsors in the House of Represenatives and he believes there is also enough support for it in the Senate to pass. Common symptoms of PH include chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, fainting and difficulty breathing. Because the symptoms are vague it is also difficult to diagnose.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...