Breathe In, Breathe Out: Lung Care Matters At St. Clair Hospital

Experts estimate you draw between 17,000 and 23,000 breaths a day. For as long as we live, our lungs quietly work away, out of sight and out of mind, efficiently helping us go about our day. Until, that is, they don’t.

Lung health is taken seriously at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Our lungs can suffer health problems, just like other organs of our bodies. When they do, the consequences can be quite serious. The lungs are one of the largest organs in the body; they contain 1,500 miles of airways, 300 to 500 million alveoli (air sacs), and if laid out flat, would be equal to 80 to 100 square meters, about half of a standard tennis court and twice the surface of the skin. In layman’s terms, the respiratory system is one of the body’s most complex structures. And every other system, indeed every single cell, is inextricably tied to the lungs.

So when lung health is compromised, the body and our entire well-being suffers. In fact, lung diseases can be quite debilitating. That’s why experts in our field train specifically to relieve, reverse, or mitigate these conditions – letting you breathe freely once again.

At A Loss For Breath: Causes Of Poor Lung Health

When our lungs suffer, we’re most likely to visit a pulmonologist for help. Pulmonology is the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the lungs and breathing; pulmonologists are specialist physicians with extensive training in lung disease, as well as heart disease, sleep medicine and critical care medicine. At St. Clair Hospital, pulmonary care is provided by a team of board-certified pulmonologists who collaborate with other physician specialists, respiratory therapists, nurses and others – all to deliver excellent, progressive care to those with respiratory diseases and conditions.

Sadly, our experts see more than their fair share of patients. Lung diseases are pervasive in western Pennsylvania. The most common lung conditions that require care at St. Clair are:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • asthma
  • lung cancer
  • Pneumonia
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • other forms of interstitial lung disease (disease that affects the network of tissue that supports the airways).

Each of these illnesses presents its own set of challenges, both when being diagnosed and when being treated. To help address these breath-stealing conditions, St. Clair Hospital utilizes the most advanced diagnostic and therapeutic technology, as well as preventive and rehabilitative programs. Most importantly, St. Clair relies on its team of experts to work with each individual patient who can no longer breathe normally or efficiently enough to be comfortable or healthy.

A Brief Overview Of Lung Care At St. Clair Hospital

Fortunately, while lung health issues are more common than we would like, the advancing of medical science and new technological capabilities in pulmonology are facilitating diagnosis and fostering unprecedented progress in treating cases of poor lung health.

“I’ve been a pulmonologist for a long time, and it’s exciting to have the new technologies and to work with a group of young physicians,” says Patrick G. Reilly, M.D. of Pittsburgh Chest Physicians. What makes the new technologies special, he notes, is the big difference they have made for doctors and patients alike.

“We can visualize and access very complex, deep, hard-to-reach sections of the lung,” explains Dr. Reilly. “The new procedures are more precise and less invasive, and patients have an easier and safer experience. In the past, surgery, under general anesthesia, was necessary to obtain lung biopsies. These newer procedures are done on an outpatient basis, with light sedation; the patient recovers quickly and goes home.”

These technologies enable the pulmonologists at St. Clair to make a diagnosis more quickly, and more accurately, at a less invasive level. This ensures that patients can receive the news they need sooner. For example, an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer always improves a patient’s chances of survival, especially because lung cancer symptoms do not typically manifest until the cancer has developed to a later, more dangerous stage.

The latest technology primarily stands out to experts for its ability to make a difference in patients’ lives – and helping patients is one of the great rewards of being a pulmonologist at St. Clair, says Andrew Perez, IV, M.D.

“Pulmonary medicine is a great field,” he says, “and pulmonary medicine at St. Clair is outstanding. All of the physicians in our division are high-caliber medical professionals who could be in any academic center. I chose this specialty because I’m interested in the complex physiology of the lungs and the mechanics of breathing. It’s a broad field that intersects with cardiology, infectious disease, oncology and other specialties, and I enjoy that.”

“We are also critical care physicians who treat the sickest of the sick, using agents that have an immediate impact,” notes Dr. Perez. “I believe that being trained in critical care makes me a better pulmonologist.”

Dr. Reilly, Dr. Perez, and their Pittsburgh-based coworkers are proud to utilize new minimally invasive diagnostic technologies that can help restore a suffering patient’s quality of life.

These new diagnostic technologies utilized by St. Clair Hospital are known collectively as interventional pulmonology and include endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), navigational bronchoscopy and transbronchial biopsy. You can read more about these procedures in our next blog post, or by downloading our Summer 2016 edition of HouseCall Magazine.