Catching Her Breath for the
First Time in Four Years
As a preschool teacher and mom, Alisen Kona had developed a lot of stamina from running around after young children. So when she started having a hard time breathing in 2006, it took a big toll on both her personal and professional life.
Exhausted and anxious to get her breath back, she asked her doctor why she was having trouble breathing. Her doctor listened to her list of symptoms and diagnosed her with asthma. To ease her symptoms, he gave her an inhaler to try making her breathing easier. The inhaler didn’t help.
“That should have been my first clue,” Alisen says. “I was taking hits off the inhaler and it didn’t do anything.”
It got so bad that even carrying on a conversation became difficult. Then she got pregnant and it got even harder to breath. Through extensive testing, her doctors discovered that she had a tracheal web that obstructed her breathing.
A tracheal web is a layer of web-like tissue that blocks the trachea (wind pipe). Tracheal webs are rare, and are usually either congenital—present at birth—or can be caused by prolonged intubation. In Alisen’s case, the web was most likely congenital, and she only noticed it when it grew to the point that her symptoms kept her from breathing properly.
Tests showed the web was benign, but her breathing was still very labored. She had a bronchoscopy done at a hospital near her home in Manteca in which the doctor used a bronchoscope—a device to see inside lungs—to laser a hole in the web. This let more air pass through for a while, but then the web would get worse again. More bronchoscopic procedures followed, none of which provided relief for very long.
“It was so hard to breathe that I couldn’t walk around the house without getting winded,” Alisen says.
A mother of three young children, Alisen found it harder and harder to keep up with the children around her. She knew she had to try something different, so she went to see a pulmonologist at Stanford, who referred her to PAMF interventional pulmonologist Ganesh Krishna, M.D.
“Dr. Krishna told me he could get rid of the web entirely, and I didn’t believe him,” Alisen says. “I thought this was my life. I’d get relief every couple years, but mostly I wouldn’t be able to breathe much.”
After examining her, Dr. Krishna told Alisen that he’d be able to remove the tracheal web entirely and permanently. To do this, he used Argon Plasma Coagulation treatment, a noninvasive procedure that uses heat to destroy tumors, stop bleeding, and in Alisen’s case, destroy a tracheal web.
Alisen recovered quickly, and she says the effect on her life has been dramatic. Her children had come to accept that mom just moved more slowly and couldn’t walk around too much without getting winded. The youngest had no memory of his mother ever being able to move around much.
It’s taken a while to sink in, but now Alisen realizes her tracheal web is gone for good. After years of moving slowly, getting out of breath easily and not keeping up with her kids, she can now do anything she wants, including running a very long time on the treadmill.
“I’ve never been a runner, but the first time I got on the treadmill after surgery, I just kept running,” Alisen says. “I kept waiting to get tired. It’s great to feel I can train and do something physical. It’s been this long road.”
"I was always out of breath. Talking was difficult, and I would have to think about it if I needed to go upstairs. Dr. Krishna removed the tracheal web permanently, and now I can breathe for the first time since 2006." —Alisen Kona