Proper Diagnosis and Treatment are Helping Him Breathe Easily Again
By any standard, Lennie Schneider seems to be a perfectly healthy, normal young man. At 22 years old, he keeps himself busy working at his dad’s construction company. He worked out frequently, keeping his body fit.
Considering the good shape he was in, the breathing difficulties Schneider started experiencing around Thanksgiving in 2017 were especially perplexing.
“I couldn’t get a full breath of air,” Schneider said. “I started to panic.” Though it happened randomly, his breathing seemed to get worse when he was around construction dust or if he exerted himself physically. He feared he had come down with pneumonia. When his family talked him into getting it checked out, the doctor thought it was asthma. However, repeated treatments with the typical medications failed to help at all.
What began then was a long series of tests to try to identify the cause of Schneider’s breathing issues. Some doctors thought it might be a problem with his heart, so he underwent two different tests, which showed his heart was functioning fine. Two more CAT/CT scans of his chest also revealed nothing other than a healthy set of lungs.
During this time, Schneider’s condition continued to intensify. The stress from the tests, from struggling to breathe and from constantly worrying about what was really wrong had a profound impact on his mental well-being and daily life. “I thought I was dying,” he said. “It was really scary. I would literally spend the whole day worrying about it. I just wanted it to go away.” Schneider remembers that at one point he spent two weeks mostly in bed.
Wilfred VanderRoest, D.O.
Eventually, Schneider sought help from a specialist at MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland. He was examined by Pulmonologist Wilfred VanderRoest, D.O. Dr. VanderRoest, noting Schneider’s particular symptoms and prior medical history, finally came to a conclusion that had eluded other doctors. Schneider had a rare respiratory condition called vocal cord dysfunction (VCD).
VCD is known medically as paradoxical vocal cord motion disorder (PVCMD). In this condition, the vocal cords tighten or move aberrantly during breathing, which creates a feeling of tightness in the throat and a sensation of insufficient air. The exact cause of the disorder is still unknown, and the majority of providers in the medical community are unaware of it.
Since the issue turned out to be with his vocal cords and not his lungs, Schneider’s therapy was surprisingly simple. Rather than taking medication, he was referred to speech therapy to learn breathing exercises to help regain normal function in his larynx. He met with Speech Language Pathologist Cindy Ruble, M.A., C.C.C.-S.L.P. “She was really nice, really helpful,” Schneider said.
Speech Language Pathologist
Cindy Ruble, M.A., C.C.C.-S.L.P.
Ruble’s main lesson for Schneider was how to do a series of “sniff” exercises that help relax the vocal cords. She also taught him how to avoid abusing his vocal cords when possible, by taking measures to clear his throat less often or keep away from triggers. Ruble says that common triggers include irritants like dust, pollen, smoke, perfume or other strong odors, exercise and acid reflux or chronic heartburn, though VCD can also be triggered by coughing, shouting, cold air and stress or anxiety.
The breathing exercises did the trick. Now, when Schneider feels like he is unable to breathe or like there is something caught in his throat, he takes a moment to do the “sniffing” exercises he learned, and his breath returns to normal. “It slowly got better,” Schneider said. “Eventually it helped a lot. There were two weeks I didn’t even think about it.”
Today, Schneider is active and exercising routinely once again. The diagnosis and tools for managing his condition have brought some well-earned relief to his life. “I feel one hundred times better,” he said. “I’ve been really happy lately.”
The goal of MidMichigan Health’s Rehabilitation Services Program is to help patients achieve the highest possible degree of independence after an injury, illness or disability. Convenient appointments are offered in a variety of locations. Inpatient rehabilitation is also available for more complex conditions such as stroke, head injuries and spinal cord injuries. Those who would like more information may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehabilitation.