Photo by Kathleen Sheffer
Chuck Thompson of Memphis, Tennessee, has been the primary caregiver to his wife, Barbara, since she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) 17 years ago. Chuck knew something was wrong when Barbara suddenly had to leave an event they were working to lie down.
At the time they owned a wedding business. After leaving the wedding, Chuck took Barbara straight to the emergency room. She spent 11 days in the hospital with no answer to what was happening with her. After two years and 14 different doctors, the Thompsons finally had a diagnosis that explained all of Barbara’s symptoms: PH.
Today, the couple is much more knowledgeable: “I could write a book about the first two years after Barbara’s diagnosis,” Chuck says. “I learned a whole lot more than I wanted to know about PH.”
At the time, Chuck and Barbara were looking forward to another wedding – one more personal.
“The doctor told me that if Barbara wanted to be at our daughter’s wedding in a few months, she should start treatment immediately. If we waited long, it would be too late.”
Barbara was referred to a PH specialist in Nashville and began treatment. Armed with an oxygen tank and a mobilized scooter, she made it to her daughter’s wedding.
However, Barbara spent most of her time bedridden, with Chuck caring for her. Chuck converted a reception hall on the ground floor of an office building they owned into an efficiency apartment. Eventually, the high cost of Barbara’s care caused financial burdens, and Chuck began experiencing health issues.
“We made the difficult decision to put our business up for sale, but we were able to make it,” he says.
Soon after Barbara’s diagnosis, Chuck’s mother, Mary Etta Thompson, began to describe similar symptoms. Chuck talked her into seeing a pulmonologist in New Jersey, 1,000 miles from Memphis. She, too, was diagnosed with PH.
After more reflection, the Thompsons suspected that Chuck’s sister, Patricia, who died in 1992, might have had PH. She was always tired, and her lips had a blue tint, Chuck says.
In 2004, Chuck and Barbara worked with the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) to start a support group in Memphis that has 41 members. Today, they support PHA with annual gifts. “I love giving back to an organization that is doing so much for PH patients,” Chuck says.
A contribution to PHA supports critical programming, including support groups that patients like Barbara and caregivers like Chuck depend on. Make a gift today