Silver Spring, Md. (March 13, 2018) — In and out of the boxing ring, Washington, D.C., Golden Glove lightweight champion Elvis Medrano is in a daily battle for his life. At 27, he’s lived six years with pulmonary hypertension (PH), a life-threatening disease also known as high blood pressure of the lungs. To help raise awareness of the often-misdiagnosed condition, the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) has invited Medrano to serve as a 2018 celebrity champion.
PH is a complex illness that affects adults and children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It results in the arteries in the lungs becoming damaged, narrowed or stiffened. PH forces the right side of the heart to pump extra hard to push blood through, which can lead to right heart failure and death. Symptoms of PH are non-specific and include shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. Consequently, people with PH can go months, sometimes years, believing they have less threatening illnesses, such as asthma.
Medrano’s now six-year PH battle began during a training session in May 2012. He was doing a head stand on a hard floor when he experienced unbearable pain and later, swelling in his right arm. The pain continued off and on for nine months. One of the many doctors he saw diagnosed him with thoracic outlet syndrome, or compressed blood vessels between his collarbone and rib, most likely a result of the head stand. He had also developed pulmonary emboli (PEs), also known as chronic blood clots in the lungs.
Medrano underwent surgery to remove a rib to relieve the pressure and pain. While the pain subsided, Medrano’s breathing grew increasingly labored in the months that followed. At age 22 and in excellent physical shape, he had never experienced being so winded, especially while training.
Medrano struggled to keep up his training and was determined to find out what was wrong. He remembers going to more than 45 doctors and receiving almost as many misdiagnoses, from asthma to “it’s probably psychological.” Eventually, he had to use portable oxygen 24-hours a day, with no idea of what was causing his shortness of breath. So, he kept asking questions.
A year after the rib surgery, one doctor referred him to Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (IHVI), one of the first U.S. centers to receive PHA’s Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center (PHCC) accreditation. That’s where Medrano learned that PEs are a risk factor for a form of PH called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH). It happens when old blood clots in the lungs restrict blood flow and increase pressure in the arteries of the lungs. Medrano’s Inova health care team ordered a Right Heart Catheterization and a V/Q scan, the two recommended tests for diagnosing this form of PH, and CTEPH was confirmed.
Steven Nathan, M.D., Medical Director of the Inova Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program, told Medrano that CTEPH is one of two forms of PH that can be treated by FDA-approved treatments. But unlike people with other forms of PH, which are incurable, CTEPH patients may also be eligible for a procedure called Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy (PTE). PTE can remove some of the old clots, lighten the burden on the right side of the heart, and in many cases, normalize the lung pressures.
Dr. Nathan referred Medrano to the CTEPH Program at Temple University Hospital, where Paul Forfia, M.D., and Yoshiya Toyoda, M.D., evaluated him for PTE surgery and deemed him a candidate. After undergoing the procedure at Temple, Medrano has followed up closely with Dr. Forfia and Anjali Vaidya, MD, at Temple. He has also undergone a series of balloon pulmonary angioplasty procedures at Temple by Riyaz Bashir, M.D.
“Mr. Medrano’s case is quite unique and challenging. We have made every effort to treat his CTEPH using all available methodologies, with the goal being to not only treat his PH, but to get his exercise capacity back to a level where he can pursue his athletic career,” Dr. Forfia said.
“Elvis has remarkable perseverance and desire to get back into the ring,” said Oksana Shlobin, MD, who manages Medrano’s care and serves as Co-director of Inova’s Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program. “Our hope is that with medications and additional procedures that open smaller vessels obstructed by clot, we can help him achieve his goal.”
Medrano credits his experience in the ring with fostering his resilient outlook. “Boxing is one of those sports people see from the outside, two guys hitting each other,” he said. “It’s actually an intellectual sport, it helps you deal with a lot of challenges.”
Medrano has returned to the ring, training and sparring six days a week, and soon he’ll learn whether he is a candidate for additional CTEPH treatments. Either way, Medrano’s eye is on the prize – fighting to live and living to fight.
“I lost a few battles,” Medrano said. “If I stick to it, I can win the war in the end.”
About the Pulmonary Hypertension Association
Headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) is the country’s leading pulmonary hypertension organization. PHA’s mission is to extend and improve the lives of those affected by PH; its vision is a world without PH, empowered by hope. PHA achieves this by connecting and working together with the entire PH community of patients, families, health care professionals and researchers. For more information and to learn how you can support PH patients, visit www.PHAssociation.org and connect with PHA on Twitter and Instagram @PHAssociation and on Facebook at facebook.com/PulmonaryHypertensionAssociation.