Pulmonary function test lab gets to the root of breathing problems

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Monday, March 20, 2023
Pulmonary function test lab gets to the root of breathing problems
Temple Health is helping people breathe better at their Pulmonary function test lab.

Good breathing is at the heart of good health.

When asthma or shortness of breath appears, a person might be sent for pulmonary function tests.

Arlene Dunlap of Piscataway, N.J. knows those tests well.

"The first symptom I had was shortness of breath," Dunlap recalls.

Now 10 years into her battle with sarcoidosis, she values every breath.

However, it was hard just to get the diagnosis.

"My first primary doctor was like, 'you just need to exercise,'" Arlene says, adding, "He never sent me for tests or anything."

She went to several primary doctors and pulmonologists in North Jersey until she was finally told her problems were due to sarcoidosis.

And after the diagnosis, Dunlap was undertreated, largely just given steroids, till a lung collapsed in 2020, and she went to the ER.

"And the doctor said, 'Your lungs are really no good; your doctor never referred you for a transplant?'" she says remembering her surprise.

She went from North Jersey to Temple Health for a transplant evaluation, starting with pulmonary function testing.

Lab manager Patricia Evans oversees a host of tests for many conditions.

"The main components are spirometry, diffusion and lung volume testing," Evans says.

"COPD or emphysema. We have patients that have pulmonary fibrosis, of course. We have patients who have asthma, sarcoidosis," she says, also noting that before surgery, cardiology and bariatric patients also need tests.

"In one year, we do over 13,000 tests," Evans says proudly.

She often soothes a patient's fear of failing a test.

"It's not about failure. We want to see how your numbers are and how the doctor can treat you," she says. "We don't want you to fail."

"They really make me comfortable and you know, relaxed. So I don't feel any way nervous," adds Dunlap.

"They take their time, and walk me through each time," she says. "Whether I've been there 1 time or 20 times, they're patient every time."

Evans also manages the pulmonary rehab program, which helps patients breathe better with less worry.

"These patients wake up and the first thing they're thinking about is how am I going to be breathing today? They work their day around how their breathing is," Evans notes.

Dunlap received a transplant evaluation in 2021, and last February she received a new lung.

And though the disease in her other lung will never go away, the rehab has reduced her need for oxygen.

"It's a shame I have to go so far for good health, but thank God I have a place to go," she notes.

Evans says in patients come to the Temple Lung Center from all around. She sees a sizeable number from Florida and other southern states.

And there are pulmonary labs at satellite locations, not just North Broad Street.