The official blog of the Lung Institute.
A featured series where Lung Institute employees tell their stories #WhatIsMyWhy
An Honor, Privilege, and Duty to be Your Physician
Being a physician was something I dreamed of becoming since I was a child. My brother, sister and myself are the first generation of my family to go to college and beyond in our education.
Although both of my parents were very intelligent and extremely successful, a formal education and those who had received one were deeply respected. Serving others was also very important to our family’s values and in order of importance, they were to serve God, serve our family and to serve our country.
As a physician, I could do all three while at the same time feeding my desire to learn and use my creative abilities to formulate new and useful things to help others.
My Early Years of Regenerative Medicine
My journey into regenerative medicine took a long and circuitous path.
My summers in high school were split between working as a volunteer in one of our local hospitals in the emergency room and surgery centers and as a laboratory assistant at what is now the St. Thomas Institute of Advanced Research.
It is there that scientists from around the world would come and study and earn advanced degrees in the life sciences.
One of the projects I was involved in was a means of offsetting the toxic effects of nitrogen mustard, which at the time was a popular chemotherapeutic agent based on the poison gas used in World War I.
At the time, it was a fairly effective drug but had some terrible side effects. But some components, derived from the organs and blood, could offset some of those effects in animal models.
These components had been isolated but had not been defined or the mechanism of action explained before I went off to college.
You Helped, You Helped Some More and then You Helped Again
After college, I attended medical school and even studied outside the United States. A requisite of that educational system was for students to spend at least four weeks of every semester caring for people living in poverty.
I had read about poverty and thought I understood it, but I had not imagined people living under such conditions. I learned much more than simply how to administer medical care.
I learned that time can be of the essence in caring for the ill, the disabled and the young and old. Even a day’s delay could mean the difference between life and death for many.
I learned the day has no hours or minutes, light or dark. You worked, you helped, you did what needed to be done until you could physically no longer do it and had to rest.
I learned there were times you had to put emotions aside until those short periods of privacy allowed you to have feelings. Otherwise your own heart could cripple your efforts.
I learned that when you enter into medicine you enter into a war and although one may win dramatic battles, eventually the war is always lost – but you must never surrender.
Those lessons did not come from a book but they were the most important ones I learned.
Head and Neck Surgeon to Sleep Disorders
When I returned home and finished medical school and went on to surgery and residency, I elected to go into the field of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery).
The anatomy is one of the most complex parts of the body and in some way, shape, or form affects all of our body functions. I also learned what cigarettes could do to a person after performing head and neck cancer surgeries.
One area I was very interested in was laser surgery. It was new at the time and my experiences uncovered a lifelong desire to introduce new things and explore new technologies to help patients.
This evolved into an interest in treating snoring and sleep-disordered breathing of which sleep apnea is probably the most common. Very few physicians in the United States took it very seriously.
But, we few studied it and showed the life-threatening dangers of these breathing problems and taught physicians from the U. S. and around the world what we had learned and were learning.
Today sleep disorder is a recognized medical specialty.
Balloon Sinus surgery was another technology that I helped introduce. Again, the establishment did not like it and threatened to ban the technology and those who used it. But one could not argue with the results and today it is used much more commonly than the older, more destructive surgical sinus operations.
An Introduction to Platelet Rich Plasma
About this time, I was on the USNS Mercy (a navy hospital ship) with two anesthesiologists from California. They told some of the surgeons about this blood-derived product that had amazing healing abilities for burns, fractures and other trauma.
They called it “Platelet Rich Plasma,” commonly known as PRP. They described how they made it. It was basically the same process we used at the St. Thomas Institute in the 1960s.
Later, while performing reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries we used PRP along with autologous cells to help with healing and regenerative effects.
More and more literature was written that discussed and highlighted the many strides being made overseas in the regenerative medicine field and about similar progress in the United States as well.
Different diseases and different organ systems were being treated with amazing results. In my own practice, I felt great satisfaction in knowing I was treating those who were ill rather than treating those who were simply concerned about their looks.
Through my head and neck cancer experience, I was aware of the many people we treated for cancers and chronic lung diseases. We would treat lung tumors with laser surgery, and we would treat obstructed airways under anesthesia.
Dr. Coleman, meet Jimmy St. Louis
It was during this time that I was introduced to and talked with Jimmy St. Louis (CEO/Founder) and the people at Lung Institute and Regenerative Medicine Solutions.
It has been a wonderful fit. Our mutual commitment to our patients, our passion to bring these new technologies to a field that has stagnated for so long, and our moral and ethical obligations that are so strong has provided a means for us to make significant positive changes to the lives of our patients and their families.
We Must Educate the Public and Professionals
As Jimmy pointed out in his previous blog, this is not always an easy road. There are detractors.
People who do not see or treat patients want us to stop or slow down so all the mechanisms can be fully worked out to their satisfaction. They don’t care that we are able to help people right now, each and every day.
They want us to stop so they can define exactly how we may help the many people with lung diseases. That’s wonderful. I want that too and I am grateful they are working on that, but….
There is Time to Work and Time to Play
I went to a meeting in California a couple years ago when one of these people explained this grand plan to all of us in a morning session.
At lunchbreak, some of us went outside to eat since it was such a nice day. A young man in our group, who had been advocating for us to slow down our research and treatments, wandered off to play Frisbee with his friends. He encouraged us to stop eating and join in the fun and games.
Later, when we took an afternoon break he was still playing Frisbee, and when we adjourned for the day he was still outside playing.
So, I asked him when does he work in the lab? He told me he gets a lot done when it’s cloudy. Maybe I should tell our patients to get sick only on cloudy days.
More than a Patient, They Become Friends
You see, the people who want to stop us don’t really take care of patients. They have never sat down with a patient and other family members and tell them they have a deadly disease that will take their life in a few years.
They have never sat at the bedside of a person they have been treating. A person they have become friends with as they lie there struggling to take their last breaths. A person who is looking at you with fear and pleading for you to help. And there is nothing you can do.
These people who play Frisbee on sunny days have never had to walk out to a waiting room to tell a family that their loved one has died.
We Only Know How to Move Forward
So, we are going to forge ahead. We are going to continue to help as many people as we can. We are going to look at every method we can from regenerative medicine technologies to diet, to lifestyle changes, to whatever will help our patients.
Because, as it was so eloquently put to me, it is our honor, our privilege, our duty, our obligation and, personally, my sacred promise as a physician to do so.
Dr. Jack Coleman, M.D.
Senior Medical Director for the Lung Institute. He is based at Lung Institute’s Nashville, Tenn. office.