Every Thursday, Richard Walnock makes a 60-mile round-trip trek to Bayshore Medical Center, where he spends upward of four hours getting infusion treatment to make it easier for his lungs to work properly.
For more than two decades, Richard, 68, has struggled with rheumatoid arthritis. Injectable treatments helped, but they lowered his immune system so much that he started to get pneumonia often — and, as a schoolteacher around kids, he was especially susceptible. That led to pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the arteries to the lungs) and rheumatoid lung disease, which makes breathing difficult.
“Over the years, his respiratory condition kept getting worse, requiring more medication,” says Richard’s longtime pulmonologist at Bayshore, Elie Mansour, M.D. “He needed steroids to keep his breathing under control, his hospital admissions were getting more frequent and he was mostly becoming homebound.”
In investigating why Richard was having these problems, Dr. Mansour sent him for a test that looks for a deficiency in the enzyme alpha-1 antitrypsin, a protein that protects the lungs. Sure enough, Richard lacked this enzyme, which made him a good candidate for infusion therapy. At first, Richard wasn’t so sure.
“He already takes 18 pills a day and is limited in what he can do physically, so to add on spending a day getting an infusion every week was daunting,” says Richard’s wife, Wendy. “It took him a while to agree to the infusion, but Dr. Mansour was persistent.”
A New Routine
When he arrives at Bayshore, Richard is carefully weighed, and his medication is mixed on the basis of his exact weight that day. Later, an IV is inserted for about two hours to deliver the medicine. Throughout the process, his blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation levels are monitored to ensure everything is going well.
He’s been able to do much more than he could before, including going fishing. Wendy brought a photo of him on the beach to the hospital, and the staff clapped — even though he didn’t catch a fish. “They’re so caring to him,” Wendy says. “They all stop what they’re doing and greet him; it’s like going to see old friends.”
A year into infusion therapy, Richard is glad he committed to it. “It helps me breathe easier, move easier,” he says. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m not 50 percent, either. It seems to be working quite well for me.”
Dr. Mansour is happy he’s been able to help. “Richard’s condition is not very common, so you don’t get the chance to see it that often,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to see the improvement in someone’s life right in front of your eyes.”