Nov. 17—Patricia Herrera, a mother of six who lives in Baxter Springs, was in shock after visiting a doctor not too long ago.
She could feel fluid bubbling in her lungs when she took deep breaths, and the problem was getting worse, so she visited her doctor and her original diagnosis was a shock — stage 4 lung cancer according to a doctor looking at a PET scan of her lungs.
The doctor had seen a dark spot deep in her lungs that was presumed to be cancer.
"I was in a dark place," Herrera said. "The diagnosis of cancer definitely puts you in a dark place, and it changes the perspective you get in life. It's just different."
Desperate for a second opinion, Herrera followed the advice of a friend and contacted Dr. Grant Pierson, pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine specialist at Freeman Hospital West.
Herrera was in luck. In 2021, Freeman had purchased a new diagnostic machine called the Monarch, which uses a tiny camera with a light and instruments that can probe the tiny passageways inside a patient's lungs.
Herrera was the 400th patient to undergo the Monarch procedure. That's why she was back at Freeman with Pierson and Freeman President Paula Baker on Wednesday as they celebrated the milestone.
Herrera said for her the procedure was painless and that she was able to leave the hospital that day.
"I don't want to talk like it was nothing," she said. "First off, it was a scary situation in itself, so really all I was thinking about was being OK. The Monarch just made it easier compared to the other scopes that could possibly damage the lungs or throat. I was put out, a tube was put in my lungs, they looked around and took stuff out, and they could do it all right there together. I think that's what was really beneficial. Then I woke up from anesthetic and went home. There was no recovery time whatsoever."
Pierson said his diagnosis was a condition that needed to be monitored, but it was not lung cancer.
"She had an atypical bacterial infection," Pierson said. "They call them nontuberculous mycobacteria. It's not transmissible. It's not contagious. A lot of us have these bacteria in our lungs. We tend to clear them out by coughing, or it doesn't cause us problems. In her situation, it ended up causing some nodules and irregularities in her lung tissue that looked positive on a CAT scan and on a PET scan."
Pierson said Auris Health's Monarch platform enables physicians to reach tiny, hard-to-reach peripheral lung nodules with greater precision than ever before — detecting lung cancers at the earliest possible stages.
The machine does this by combining robotics, micro-instrumentation, small cameras and tools into a single system that in some ways resembles a video game system, complete with controllers and monitors.
"We are excited about the promise of this technology to offer a more hopeful future for our patients with lung cancer," Pierson said. "I foresee being able to biopsy a nodule for diagnosis and then initiate treatment even before a patient walks out the door.
"With Monarch, I was able to get deeper into her lung, biopsy multiple different sites with confidence and accuracy. The right tool in the right hands can truly change the world of lung cancer, and I think that's what Monarch is doing."
To Herrera's relief, the biopsy showed no malignancy.
"Dr. Pierson never made me feel like I was just a patient," she said. "He would keep me updated on any changes or diagnosis. He's a superhero in my eyes."
For more information about Monarch or pulmonology services at Freeman, call 417-347-8315 or visit freemanhealth.com/lung.