A New York Times medical mystery and a determined sister saved this patient’s life

A simple cough turned out to be much more, but a straightforward procedure by a Perelman School of Medicine doctor fixed a patient’s ‘leaky lung.’

It started with a cough. In the fall of 2019, months before a tickle in the throat would send anyone into COVID-19 panic, Susan Bosanko, 59, was unalarmed.

microscopic lung matter
When Susan Bosanko began coughing up rubbery branches, she knew her health was in danger. She later found out that the branches were fluid molds of her own airways—a hallmark of plastic bronchitis. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

“I initially thought it was probably just allergies. It would come and go. I didn’t want to go to the doctor, because I’d be coughing really bad one day, and the next few days, I’d be fine,” said Bosanko, an insurance claims examiner who lives in Albany, New York.

Then, she started to cough up the “awful things”—soft, rubbery, branch-like structures, which she said resembled “baby umbilical cords.”

A few months later, Bosanko wound up in the intensive care unit on a ventilator with a diagnosis of “plastic lung,” a life-threatening condition caused by leakage of lymph fluid from the thoracic duct into the lungs. A chance occurrence involving a New York Times medical mystery column connected her with Maxim Itkin, an interventional radiologist at the Perelman School of Medicine

With a solution that Itkin describes as akin to fixing a leaky faucet, he put Bosanko onto the road to recovery.

This story is by Lauren Ingeno. Read more at Penn Medicine News.