Oklahoman with asthma makes the climb back to good health

Severe asthma grounded mountain climber and runner Robert Stuemky of Newkirk. Now he has become what is believed to be the state's first patient to receive a new type of procedure.
BY SONYA COLBERG scolberg@opubco.com Published: January 21, 2012

The wind ushered in a blustery, gray morning.

Robert Stuemky has seen many of those mornings from mountaintops. He climbed all of the more than 50 Colorado mountains with peaks higher than 14,000 feet over the years until severe asthma grounded him, even ended his running routine.

“My normal routine for about 25 years was to run about eight miles per day,” he said.

“About a year ago, the asthma got so bad I stopped running. ... I just gave it up.”

So, from Stuemky's vantage point from a wheelchair rolling into the operating room, it was a beautiful day.

“I'm ready to go. I'm excited,” he said.

In a state ranked the fifth worst for asthma sufferers, the 67-year-old Newkirk resident stands out. He is believed to be Oklahoma's first patient to undergo a new treatment for severe asthma, called bronchial thermoplasty.

The new procedure is designed for severe asthma sufferers older than 18 whose symptoms can't be controlled with the traditional inhalers and steroid medications.

Dr. Brent Brown, dressed in blue scrubs, orchestrated the work in an operating room at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.

“Our patient is Mr. Robert Stuemky, and we're going to be doing bronchial thermoplasty,” Brown said.

He asked the team about any medical issues, but noted there were none as the fit mountain climber lay sleeping on the operating table.

“Could we dim the lights just a smidge?” Brown asked.

Like a giant, pink seashell, the patient's windpipe sprang to life on a couple of monitors beside his operating table.

And so it begins

Dr. Ahmed Awab assisted the procedure, driving the scope down a tube in the patient's mouth to view the tiny airways. The doctors checked to be sure the first two treatments — which treated different areas of the lung — didn't damage the tissue.



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