Newswise — (May 2021) Along with a first-place winner, there are two honorable mentions in the Vasculitis Foundation’s (VFs) 2021 Recognizing Excellence in Diagnostics (V-RED) award program. Now in its eighth year, V-RED has grown into a powerful awareness campaign that recognizes medical providers worldwide for making a critical, early diagnosis of vasculitis.
This year’s first place winner is Adam Maass, MD, an endocrinologist in Cave Springs, Arkansas. Dr. Maass had been taking care of Hunter Keen since he was diagnosed at age 12 with type 1 diabetes. Hunter’s new symptoms began a week before Christmas in 2017 when the then 17-year-old began coughing up blood. Many doctors were away for the holidays, including the Keen family’s primary care physician (PCP), and three days later the cough grew more intense with dark, bright blood appearing in the sputum. The Keen’s PCP was again unavailable so Hunter’s mom, Sherri, called Dr. Maass, who was also away at the time, but he recommended that an x-ray of Hunter’s lungs and lab tests be done. While Hunter was misdiagnosed with bronchitis and pneumonia, and ultimately spent five days in the hospital, it had been Dr. Maass who insisted on further testing, including for granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA). GPA is a form of vasculitis characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels, which can restrict blood flow and damage vital organs and tissues, and typically affects the sinuses, lungs, and kidneys. “We will be forever grateful for Dr. Maass’ close scrutiny and concern for our son's health,” Sherri Keen said.
Alison Whitman, MD, a PCP in Abingdon, Virginia, received an honorable mention in this year’s V-RED award program. Dr. Whitman’s patient, Tom Breeding, had a sinus infection that treatment did not improve—even after he sought care from an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Dr. Whitman had a growing suspicion that GPA could be the reason for his lingering symptoms. From mid-June through July 2020, Dr. Whitman ordered tests, made referrals, and continued to voice her unconfirmed, yet ultimately correct diagnosis of GPA. “She was familiar with this rare disease as she already had more than one patient in her practice with it,” Tom’s wife, Pam, explained. “She knew what was needed to receive the definitive diagnosis—a biopsy and anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody testing.” The Breedings, who live in Cleveland, Virginia, thank Dr. Whitman for her knowledge, sensitivity, investigative skills, and persistence. “Our locality is rural, so travel is necessary for care with specialists and treatments, but Dr. Whitman and the rheumatologist work well together to give Tom excellent care.”
The second honorable mention award was to given to Scott Beegle, MD, a pulmonary/critical care physician in Albany, New York. When Dr. Beegle’s patient, Mary Meliski, was admitted to the hospital in February 2009 with severe jaw, ear, neck and back pain, as well as wheezing and shortness of breath, a month went by with no doctor being able to make a diagnosis. At one point, Mary was told all her results were normal, that she must be depressed, and that it could be “all in her head.” Dr. Beegle’s team performed a lung biopsy on Mary. When the results came back, they found the antibodies, and the lung biopsy was consistent with eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA, formerly Churg-Strauss syndrome). EGPA is one of the rarest forms of vasculitis and primarily affects the small blood vessels. Individuals diagnosed with EGPA usually have a history of asthma or allergies. Mary was finally released from the hospital in March 2009. “Since the beginning, Dr. Beegle has been dedicated to my care and has a bedside manner unmatched by other providers. His knowledge and understanding assure me that my care is in the right hands.”
Karen Hirsch, past-president of the VF Board of Directors, is particularly encouraged by the V-RED award program’s success. After her son, Michael, received an early diagnosis of vasculitis, Hirsch created the award to bring special recognition to medical professionals in a broad range of clinical specialties. She believes the award increases awareness among medical peers. The program calls on patients worldwide to nominate a medical professional they want to recognize for making a critical, early diagnosis of vasculitis, thus enabling timely treatment, and potentially sparing permanent and ongoing health complications.
Building upon the collective strength of the vasculitis community, the Vasculitis Foundation supports, inspires and empowers individuals with vasculitis and their families through a wide range of education, research, clinical, and awareness initiatives.