Veteran Twin Cities’ TV reporter, ARDS survivor becomes U lung research ambassador
Boisterous, spirited, gregarious—all words that describe Marcia Fluer, known to many for her 18-plus years as a Twin Cities’ TV-news political reporter. Quiet she is not—playfully smiling as she lists “meddling” as a favorite pastime. But Fluer was temporarily silenced in 2001 following a life-threatening bout with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
ARDS landed Fluer in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview (UMMC), with respiratory failure requiring a mechanical ventilator and a drug-induced coma for 18 days. When she finally returned home, she couldn’t type or write; she was using a walker and had an oxygen tank in tow. But thanks to the care she received at the U, Fluer made a full recovery—and hasn’t lost her inquisitive nature.
“For a news person, the most maddening thing was that I had no idea what was going on for a month,” she recounts.
Today, Fluer, 75, is using her talents to raise awareness about the lifesaving work being done at the U and helping to fundraise for lung health research.
It was in late November of 2001 when ARDS struck. Fluer was out to dinner and began shivering. She went home and took a shower. “That’s the last thing I remember,” she says.
Fluer was rushed to UMMC and diagnosed with “double pneumonia.” Both of her lungs were failing and then after one lung collapsed, hallucinations set in. Fluer was diagnosed with ARDS.
Fluer’s doctor, David Ingbar, M.D., director of the U’s Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep (PACCS) Medicine division, says that ARDS develops when the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid. “It’s a very rapid failure of the lungs that happens over a 24-hour period,” he says, adding that it’s commonly tied to other health issues. “It really is a devastating, disease.”
After she came out of the drug-induced coma, Fluer’s doctors gave her oxygen to help her lungs heal. “I came out of it weak as a kitten,” she says.
Improving ARDS outcomes
ARDS is not commonly known to the public, but affects almost 200,000 adults each year in the U.S. Currently, the mortality rate for people with ARDS sits at 40 percent, and some survivors suffer long-term lung scarring. But physicians and researchers are working to improve outcomes.
Ingbar has been studying lung repair after ARDS for more than 20 years. Based on his lab studies, he currently is preparing an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test the use of a thyroid hormone called Triiodothyronine (also known as T3) to treat patients with ARDS. The drug clears lung fluid by stimulating the lining of the lungs to absorb the fluid back into the bloodstream. The initial clinical studies will be done at UMMC and at Essentia Health in Duluth with Timothy Rich, M.D., assistant professor of medicine.
In addition to Ingbar’s research, Maneesh Bhargava, M.D., an assistant professor in the U’s PACCS division, is studying how damaged lungs heal and is identifying markers to assess the degree of lung damage.
“We’re identifying the key proteins involved in lung repair to speed healing,” he says. As part of this work, he’s collecting biosamples from ARDS patients and storing the samples in the U’s O’Brien Biobank for Lung Research, funded by the Alice M. O’Brien Foundation. Bhargava is using those samples to identify proteins in patients with ARDS that predict the survival of some patients and that are important in the repair process.
In related research, Craig Weinert, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor in the same division, is an expert in the long term psychological effects of ARDS and other conditions requiring prolonged mechanical ventilation. He is conducting intervention studies aimed at helping ARDS patients during their time in the ICU and afterwards. For example, have patients listen to self-selected music through headphones to reduce anxiety or give patients a device that allows them to safely self-administer sedative medications through an IV pump.
To improve post-ICU recovery, Weinert has also completed a clinical trial to determine if it is feasible to administer anti-depressant medications to ARDS patients very early in their illness to prevent the onset of post-ICU depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that might not appear until weeks later.
Fluer says that her experience as a patient at the University, coupled with the U’s leading ARDS research, inspires her support of the U’s lung health program.
Grateful to have this medical resource close to home, Fluer now serves on the University of Minnesota Foundation’s Lung Advisory Committee, helping to raise awareness and philanthropic support for lung health initiatives at the U.
“We’ve got to raise money,” she says. “These docs ought to know that there is somebody cheering for them. They know the latest. That’s why patients with ARDS are safer here than anywhere else.”
Encouraging support for lung health at the University comes down to one simple fact: “I don’t think you can do any better,” she says. “University of Minnesota doctors are the best.”