At age 5, Brandi Harris of Trinity was misdiagnosed with asthma - she wasn’t properly diagnosed for another 13 years.
Last year, Harris, now 19, learned she actually had pulmonary hypertension (PH).
“PH is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It makes the right side of the heart work harder than normal,” said Anita Kelkar, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health and Harris’ physician. “One of the first symptoms of PH is often shortness of breath with everyday activities, such as climbing stairs.”
Growing up, Harris would watch her classmates - who had been accurately diagnosed with asthma - use their inhalers and be able to actively participate in gym class or field trips. Harris would still struggle to participate after using her inhaler; often experiencing a continued racing heartbeat, fatigue and prolonged shortness of breath.
“I always knew something else was off, even as a kid -I just didn’t know what. I’d watch the other kids with asthma use their inhalers and then they were fine to be active, but I wasn’t,” Harris said. “I would wonder to myself, ‘What is going on with me, why can’t I play like them?’ ”
When Harris turned 16, her symptoms became more prevalent and intense which resulted in her being referred to Wake Forest Baptist. She was diagnosed as having PH by Kelkar and a multidisciplinary team including pulmonologist Rodolfo Pascual, M.D.
“Oftentimes, patients - especially younger patients - can be misdiagnosed in the early stages of PH since the symptoms of the disease are similar to many other medical conditions,” Kelkar said. “In
Brandi’s case, I am thankful that we were able to diagnose and treat her before her pulmonary hypertension had advanced too far. We have resources now that can stabilize her condition and give her more quality of life.”
Harris’ treatment consists of a combination of two oral medications that help prevent the blood vessels in her lungs from narrowing.
“I’m just so unbelievably thankful for Dr. Kelkar and Dr. Pascual,” Harris said. “By them accurately diagnosing me, I’ve been given the best gift. The other day, my sister and I were actually joking around with my grandpa and he was jokingly trying to run away and I was able to keep up with him. Keeping up with someone at any age is something I never thought that I would be able to do.”
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is one of three hospitals in the state that offer a PH clinic.