KRIS ROSS: Breathing new awareness into an affliction that goes unnoticed

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Kris Ross has been plagued by pulmonary hypertension for years.

CORNWALL, Ontario - The hole in Kris Ross's heart is both literal, and figurative.

The Cornwall teacher had the affliction go undiagnosed for years. It has led to complications that can be measured in every breath she takes thanks to what has become a significant case of pulmonary hypertension.

When Ross breathes there is often a rattle in her throat that progresses to small fits of coughing - often the least of her problems.

Her lung condition often leaves her drained of energy, unable to complete even simple tasks around the house like cutting the lawn or cleaning.

But perhaps the worst of her condition is the isolation. While she has a close circle of friends who understand her situation, others don't realize that a person with pulmonary hypertension lives within a prison of their own home - and their own body.

"You're just stuck with what you have," she said in an interview. "The life you thought you were going to have is not the life you will get.

"I'm still quite functional - for example, I can still work. But I need other help."

When Ross was a teen, she began to feel breathlessness and fatigue, and was repeatedly told it was due to migraines, laziness and a lack of exercise. From the ages of 19-29, her symptoms continued and she was continually misdiagnosed with asthma and other conditions. After 10 years of seeing no results from inhalers and puffers, Ross was finally directed to the proper specialists, and tests revealed her condition in 2002.

At school her schedule is often arranged so that classes aren't stacked up on top of each other - which gives her an opportunity to catch her breath (pun fully intended) between periods.

Ross is speaking out about pulmonary hypertension because it is largely unknown, if not ignored, by the general populace.

The Pulmonary Hypertension Association of Canada (PHA Canada) recently marked World PH Day against this invisible killer that affects as many as 10,000 Canadians – including young children and adults in the prime of their life.

Commonly known as “PH,” pulmonary arterial hypertension is a rare, debilitating, progressive and potentially fatal lung disease in which the arteries of the lungs become closed off or scarred, resulting in high blood pressure in the lungs. PH has no cure and the pain and fatigue it causes make everyday activities like climbing stairs, walking short distances or even talking on the phone, extremely difficult.

A new Canadian survey of patients with PH and their caregivers reveals many disturbing trends, including that patients live with the devastating symptoms of PH for an average of three years before being properly diagnosed.

Ross finds herself with symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and dizzy spells among others.

"Eventually I will go on a list to have a heart/lung transplant," she said, but adds her condition has not deteriorated to a point where she will be considered for an immediate transplant.

But that can change quickly.

"The thing about this, is you really can't plan for the future," said Ross, who takes medication daily. "If there's one thing I could say it would be that even if you don't think you're sick, you might be.

"People should get tested."

More on PH can be found here.

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