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Medical mystery solved: Stanford clinicians identify source of Navy pilot's puzzling symptoms

Navy pilotTalk about medical mysteries: For two years, Navy pilot Robert Buchanan was plagued with symptoms like an irregular heartbeat, a drooping eyelid, hypersensitive sinuses, jaw pain and neck swelling - and no one could figure out exactly what was wrong.

"I had never encountered anything quite like it before," said Edward Damrose, MD, chief of the Division of Laryngology at Stanford, who has been seeing patients for nearly 20 years.

Damrose worked with a team of doctors from a variety of specialties to determine the source of the problems - ultimately identified as a kind of decompression injury following a 2006 flight accident - and treat Buchanan. An article in the current issue of Inside Stanford Medicine chronicles the long road to treatment and ends on a happy note:

This winter, eight years after his near-fatal flight and two years after he came to Stanford for help, after a slew of diagnostic tests and more than a dozen incremental surgeries to fix his injuries, Buchanan passed [the Navy's] tests and qualified to fly again. With that step, he can move toward commanding a squadron of fighter pilots. "That's the pinnacle of an aviator's career," he said.

"This case taught me to never, never take it for granted that you know it all," Damrose said. "The answers aren't always in textbooks." The literature search also revealed other patients suffering from similar symptoms, almost all related to decompression injury, he said. "And Cmdr. Buchanan spurred us to keep going."

Previously: NIH network designed to diagnose, develop possible treatments for rare, unidentified diseases
Photo by Todd Holland

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