Debra Gonzales, 66, lives in Redondo Beach, California, with her terrier mix, Gypsy. A recent widow, Debra has a stepdaughter whom she sees every weekend, and Debra’s mother-in-law lives in a house on her property. Along with her pulmonary hypertension (PH) diagnosis, Debra has severe disk disease of the lumbar spine and arthritis. Debra enjoys meeting friends for lunch a few times a month and an occasional movie.
By Debra Gonzales
I was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in July 2021. While having a pre-operative exam for a minor procedure that required sedation, my electrocardiogram (EKG) results were slightly abnormal. My doctor wouldn’t clear me for the procedure and sent me to a cardiologist.
The cardiologist initially wasn’t concerned about the EKG. After I complained about shortness of breath for the past six months, ankle and leg swelling, and fatigue with exertion, the doctor ordered a brain natriuretic peptide test. The test came back with an abnormal reading of 141. The physician’s assistant then ordered an echocardiogram, which showed an elevated lung arterial pressure of 67.
I was then scheduled for left and right heart catheterization. The catheterization showed a healthy left side of the heart, but the right side of my heart was enlarged and had an arterial pressure of 73. The PA prescribed a diuretic and referred me to a pulmonologist.
When I saw the pulmonologist, I passed the six-minute walk test. I then was scheduled for a sleep study, CT scan of my lungs, and pulmonary function tests. These test results were relatively normal, and I was referred to a pulmonary hypertension (PH) specialist, Yuri Matusov, M.D. at Cedars-Sinai advanced lung disease clinic.
My first visit with Dr. Matusov was over an hour. He told me I had PAH and heart failure. He also said the PAH was probably idiopathic or caused by the psoriatic arthritis I have had for many years.
In January, I started taking tadalafil. After waiting insurance authorization, I found out it would cost me $356 a month. With the help of Dr. Matusov’s nurse, I got the prescription transferred and used a GoodRx coupon, which brought the price down to $15.56.
In March, Dr. Matusov prescribed Ambrisentan and increased my tadalafil dosage. In July, an echocardiogram showed my pulmonary arterial pressure had decreased to 69. My brain natriuretic peptide was 41, and Dr. Matusov said I was no longer in right heart failure. I still have severe PAH so I continue to take my medications and use oxygen at night.
Since my diagnosis, I have learned to take things one day at a time. I do what I can do when I can do it. I don’t worry about what doesn’t get done, and I’ve learned to accept help when it’s offered.
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