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PH Specialist Story

Paul Fairman, MD

Paul Fairman, MDMeet Dr. Paul Fairman: Furthering PH Education on the Road

Dr. Paul Fairman is the Director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Service and a Professor of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. He became interested in PH in 1991 when he met his first PH patients while working in a lung transplant program. Dr. Fairman currently serves as National Committee Chair for the PHA on the Road: PH Patients and Families Education Forums. He chaired the four PHA on the Road programs in the spring of 2011 and is looking forward to chairing, planning and attending two more programs in the fall of 2012. Dr. Fairman recently took time to talk about his involvement in spreading awareness and education about PH.

You specialize in pulmonary and critical care medicine. What sparked your interest in PH?

I enjoyed thinking about the hemodynamics (pressures and blood flow) of PH and how they created symptoms and signs that were different from other lung and heart problems. I was curious about the various disease states that lead to PH. And I was captivated by the thought that there might be ways to treat PH other than transplant. Our first success came in a group of patients with obesity-related sleep apnea causing PH. Successful surgery for weight loss resulted in resolution or substantial improvement of PH in most patients.

You've been working in the field of PH for a long time. Do any cases or patients really stand out to you?

There are many: Lindsey, Angela, Robert, "Pinkie," Gwen, Melvin, Gayle, Bonnie and many more. Each of them has a unique story and has taught our team something about the disease, its treatment, and the resilience and resourcefulness of those with this disease. One special woman taught me not to underestimate the capacity of patients to manage this disease. She was in her mid-60s when her diagnosis of idiopathic PAH was confirmed. We agonized over starting epoprostenol (the only treatment at the time). It seemed like it would be too much of a burden for her and her partner. We worried about her ability to care for her catheter and operate the pump. Despite our concerns, she thrived on the drug, had no "pump problems," maintained her catheter without any infections and remained independent until her death nine years later. Patients can, with the help of family and friends, team up to fight PH. It is very rewarding to be a part of a patient's team.

How did you become involved with PHA?

I stopped by PHA's booth at an American College of Chest Physicians national meeting. I was curious: who is this group and can they really help our patients and their families? I was impressed by the enthusiasm of those at the booth and their knowledge. Their goals to connect patients, provide accurate information and lobby for additional research made sense. And when I went to a national PH meeting, I was "hooked."

What do you enjoy most about working with PHA and the PH community?

Meeting the people who create the fine programs and materials we have come to depend on for our patients and their families. I am fascinated by the stories of PHA's staff and amazed by their seemingly boundless energy.

You are currently the PHA on the Road National Committee Chair and have participated in planning a number of forums. What impact has this had on you and what have you enjoyed most?

First, I am more deeply aware of the enthusiasm and dedication of PHA staff members who plan, organize and develop these programs. Second, I learn from the experience and expertise of the speakers and leaders at each program; I hear how they teach "PH" and organize their clinical care. Third, I get to hear more stories from more patients and family members about their "walk" on the PH pathway.

What's the most important piece of advice you give to your PH patients?

Pulmonary hypertension is a team event. You need to involve your spouse, family, friends and connect with your doctor, nurse, specialty pharmacy nurse, physical therapist, PH support group. Learn all you can about this disease and how you, and your team, can fight it ... together.

Interview conducted by Meghan Finney, PHA Patient Education Program Manager


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The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) awarded PHA the Abbey S. Meyers Leadership Award in 2012 for outstanding service to PHA members in advocacy, education and other key areas.