Helping Patients Breathe Better
For Loc Tan Nguyen, M.D., an internal medicine physician at the Center for Primary Care in Fairfield, the battle to help his patients overcome asthma is personal. He was just a baby in South Vietnam when his mother, Loi Pham, began suffering debilitating asthma attacks. His father, an attorney and army officer, had been taken prisoner by the communist government and the family fled to the countryside in 1975 when Saigon fell, living in huts carved into the hillside.
When the evenings grew cold, his mother’s body would be wracked with severe coughing fits. Dr. Nguyen vividly remembers being 3 or 4 years old, standing by his mother’s bedside with his four sisters as they cried and prayed. “It was very traumatic,” he recalled. “I felt helpless.”
Out of that experience came the determination to become a doctor, and to specialize in treatments to help people like his mother.
Two years after coming to the United States, his mother’s symptoms disappeared. It turned out her asthma was caused by a viral infection. “We had no access to medicine for all those years. Once she received treatment, her condition improved,” he said. “That’s the hope I want to bring to my patients. I don’t want any of them to have to go through what we went through as a family.”
Asthma is a chronic disease in which the airways narrow and swell and produce mucus, making breathing difficult. It is often triggered by an allergic reaction, but can also be triggered by viral infections or even exercise.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Trouble sleeping
Solano County is a particularly challenging place for asthmatics, with a large number of allergens—from weeds and grasses—floating in the air. According to California Breathing, a program of the California Department of Public Health, approximately 89,000 people (21 percent) in Solano County have been diagnosed with some form of asthma.
Many children develop asthma before the age of 5. And although there is no cure, once it is diagnosed, a treatment plan can be created to help the patient take control.
“Each of my patients is different,” said Dr. Nguyen. “I create a unique plan for every individual patient that will help them be successful.”
Smoke is one of the strongest triggers of asthma, and some of his patients are admittedly smokers.”I know it seems impossible, but we have ways of helping these folks stop smoking,” said Dr. Nguyen. “I give them the medication, the support and the encouragement they need to stop. It may take two months, it may take six months, but if they want to improve their quality of life, I’m here to help them.”
And, he has a 70 percent success rate helping patients kick the habit. “Some people think it can never happen, but it can. When they feel that we treat them with compassion and respect, they take it seriously and try hard,” he said. “I’m here to help them take back control.”