“The soldiers with inexplicable breathing complaints started appearing in Dr. Robert F. Miller’s pulmonology clinic in 2004, the year after Baghdad fell to invading United States forces. These new patients were active-duty troops from nearby Fort Campbell, men and women who came home from war with mysterious respiratory ailments. The base asked Miller, an unassuming and soft-spoken lung specialist at Vanderbilt University, to take a look.
Miller was baffled to see formerly healthy soldiers gasping for air after mild exertion. Some of them had been close to the fire at the Mishraq sulfur mine outside Mosul, thought to be the largest release of sulfur dioxide ever caused by humans. But others had never gone anywhere near the burning mine. Some of them could no longer run or climb stairs, and yet their X-rays and pulmonary-function tests looked normal.
Confounded, Miller decided to try something radical: He began ordering lung biopsies under general anesthesia to look for more subtle damage known as small-airways disease. Sure enough, the tissue revealed toxic lung injury, which Miller diagnosed as constrictive bronchiolitis. To the doctor, this meant two things: First, the soldiers were not exaggerating their symptoms. And more important, noninvasive screenings couldn’t be trusted to detect these new post-deployment ailments.
Eager to share his discovery, Miller contacted doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This led, at first, to what Miller recalls as an enthusiastic collaboration. Army doctors flew to Tennessee to review Miller’s biopsies, and together they went to Fort Campbell to develop a protocol for evaluating patients.”
DL: Excellent article. The end is surprising. Jon Stewart takes up the cause, and the congress and military decide finally to help these people. It took a star with the power of gigantic publicity coverage.