Allison Dsouza (center) and Elizabeth Colglazier (left) like to say they “grew up together in PH.” Allison, a 22-year-old nursing student at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) as a senior in high school. Elizabeth is a pediatric nurse practitioner at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where she specializes in PH. Allison and Elizabeth had planned to share their story at the Journey’s Luncheon at PHA 2020 International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions. This is their story:

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Allison Dsouza had an “ah-ha” moment in high school biology class when her teacher said some people with heart murmurs had difficulty walking. Allison, who had become progressively short of breath since the eighth grade, could barely walk to her car or go horseback riding. She mentioned the teacher’s comment to her parents, who took her to see her pediatrician.

Her pediatrician ran some lab tests, which revealed a high red blood cell count. He recommended further testing, including a CT scan. The scan showed that her heart was enlarged, so she underwent an echocardiogram the next day.

The cardiologist said, “If it’s what I think it is, you need to go to UCSF. And you need to go right away.” The next morning, after giving a presentation in English class, she went to Benioff Children’s Hospital, part of University of California-San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF).

Nine Days in ICU

The following day, Allison had a cardiac catheterization, which confirmed PH and nearly caused a heart attack. She also met Elizabeth, who then specialized in pediatric critical care, in the ICU.

“She was poring over her textbooks and made it clear that she was going to fight PH and go to college,” Elizabeth recalls.

Allison’s PH was one of the worst cases her medical team had ever seen, Elizabeth says. Jeffrey Fineman, M.D., who directs Benioff’s pediatric pulmonary hypertension program, started triple therapy to open her pulmonary arteries: subcutaneously delivered Remodulin, tadalafil and ambrisentan.

Discovering a Role Model

As Allison applied to colleges and took Advanced Placement classes, Elizabeth took over her health care. Eventually, Elizabeth helped her transition to college and an adult PH specialist. “It was more of mentoring role,” Elizabeth says. “You don’t have that with every patient.”

After high school, Allison attended California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, where she studied biological sciences. She thought she wanted to go to medical school until the summer she shadowed Elizabeth on her job. Instead, she decided to get a nursing degree at University of California, Los Angeles.

The biggest compliment a patient can give a health care professional is to say, “I want to do what you do professionally,” Elizabeth says. So she was flattered when Allison told her she planned to go to nursing school.

“She will be an incredible nurse and nurse practitioner,” Elizabeth says. “Parents and patients love to meet Allison because they can see that their children can go to college and live normal lives. She is an inspiration to many.”

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The story of Allison and Elizabeth’s PH journey originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Pathlight, PHA’s quarterly magazine. Pathlight is a benefit of PHA membership. To read more inspirational PH stories and receive a copy of the magazine, join PHA.