Giving Back to the PH Community After My Diagnosis: Fran Etzkorn

May 31,2018

I have tried to write this story in the past, but have not been able to put it into words.

It started in 2007 with shortness of breath and tiredness. My husband and I had a home in Tucson, Arizona, where we had planned to retire after having lived in the mountains of Colorado for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, our dog, Rupert, developed Valley Fever while we were in Arizona, and we spent time, money, and love getting him well from his long illness. During that time, I noticed I wasn’t feeling up to my usual energetic self. I thought it was because I was spending all my energy taking care of Rupert.

Back in Colorado later that year, I fell while running outside to close the shed door because of a hail storm. I went for X-rays, and my doctor sent me to another doctor for further examination. I was diagnosed with asthma, but didn’t get any better with the asthma treatments. In fact, I got worse. I was referred to another doctor in same clinic who sent me for more testing, which resulted in a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (PH).

I was referred to National Jewish Health in February, 2009. I was not scared until I was doing an exercise electrocardiogram on the treadmill and was told they couldn’t complete the test on me—my heart was not strong enough for it.

Now I was getting very concerned. I saw many doctors at National Jewish, all of whom did their best to find the right treatment for me. They told me I had idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. I was given more breathing tests, all of which indicated I was not getting enough oxygen into my lungs. They put me on a course of oxygen for 24 hours a day. What a life changer that was!

I used to go to our community center to swim and do yoga. I used to go on walks with a friend. Now, I was short of breath and tired all the time. I had always been very active in our community as a volunteer firefighter and officer. I served as the emergency preparedness coordinator for Gilpin County, Colorado, for seven years. I was also a golfer and a clown. Slowing down was hard for me, but I couldn’t continue to do these things at my usual pace being tired and breathless all the time. Yes, I was getting older, but I shouldn’t have been this tired.

After two heart catheterizations in a year and a half, I was sent to University of Colorado Health, where I am still under the care of a wonderful team of PH experts.

My whole life changed in March, 2012. My condition worsened, and I needed to have medication to keep my arteries open so oxygen could get to my lungs. I had surgery, and a tube was inserted into my heart. I now receive medication through this tube 24/7. I can breathe and am not so tired! We had to move from our mountain home (elevation 8,900 feet) to our current house (elevation 4,900 feet). I wanted to stay in Colorado where my team of PH specialists are located.

Right now, clowning is what I do. Kolo is my clown name, and I’m an officer in Colorado Clown Alley, as well as a member of the World Clown Association and Clown of America International. I help out at Longmont United Hospital as a caring clown visiting patients and staff. I perform about 50 times a year at the hospital; in school classrooms and assisted-living facilities; and at parades and special events, like the PH Walk in the Park.

I have been given so much at this age of 78, and I want to return the gifts. I sign up for as many drug study programs as I can so we can find a cure for PH. Thanks to all of you in advance for helping me and others to find this cure.

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