‘PH has changed our lives forever.’

Lisa Laughlin and her husband of 33 years, Michael, reside in Mossyrock, Washington. The couple has three children, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and two cats. Lisa and Michael are enjoying retirement and working around their home and yard. This is their story.

By Lisa Laughlin

My husband, Michael, was diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension (PH) in January 2018. He was a catastrophe manager for an insurance company and traveled for weeks at a time. He says his shortness of breath first appeared in 2016 while on catastrophe duty in Texas.

My father became ill shortly before that and died in summer 2016. While we were focused on that illness, Michael dismissed his early PH symptoms as being “out of shape.” I was preparing for a trip to Norway to meet family at the time. My dad and the upcoming trip were our priorities.

In January 2017, Mike didn’t go for a walk before dinner, as he usually did after work. He stopped those walks entirely by April, and his shortness of breath became more frequent. Michael went through test after test in between traveling for business.

He continued to decline and couldn’t do simple, everyday things anymore. Our thoughtful neighbors helped me drag our garbage and recycling bins down our lane to the road, something Michael previously had done. He struggled to go up the 16 stairs in our home. I began to worry about him dying during the night.

In October 2017, we were sitting around in the evening when Michael got up to leave the room. He fell and passed out, but has no memory of it. He went to urgent care, where doctors him to the emergency room. He spent hours there, where a doctor told him, “People pass out,” before releasing him. He took a turn for the worse by the end of the year and wound up in the ER in January 2018.

Michael’s heart was failing, and he went on sick leave. Fortunately, his primary care doctor arranged for oxygen to be delivered to our home after the ER visit. Michael could barely get out of bed or get dressed anymore. He saw a cardiologist a few weeks later, and the cardiologist was the first doctor to tell Michael he thought he had a lung issue, not a heart problem. He scheduled catheterization for his right and left heart.

Michael received an official diagnosis of a disease we had never heard of: PH. I Googled it in the waiting room and was scared. I went to see Michael in recovery and told him what the diagnosis was. He had resigned himself to having the heart problems that so many people in his family had. PH was not something we were prepared for, and we found ourselves wishing it was a heart problem that could be fixed.

The diagnosis went from shock to acceptance to reality. Michael went on PH meds and returned to work for a short period of time before realizing it was time to retire about a year ago. He has “off” days but is doing well overall. Michael became a voluntary auxiliary officer with our local police department to have something to do in retirement. He always wanted to be a police officer!

I am very proud of him. He is not a “poor pitiful me” type of person and has persevered through many trials in his life. He is persevering through PH.

My mission since Michael’s diagnosis has been to educate myself as much as possible about PH. I joined the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and online support groups. I am thankful for those support groups and the PH friends I have met.

I have tried to educate Michael’s very large family about PH because doctors haven’t identified a cause. We do not know for certain if his PH is genetic. PH has changed our lives forever. PH is not Michael’s disease. PH is our disease.

Does Lisa and Michael’s story resonate with you? Inspire and give hope to the PH community by sharing your experience with PH. Submit your story here, and read more stories from PHA’s Right Heart Blog.

If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with PH, order your copy of Roadmap to Hope. This free information kit will answer your PH questions and walk you through the steps of how you can live your best life with PH. Order your copy now.

Lisa Laughlin

Michael (l) and Lisa Laughlin (r)