As a registered nurse and single mother, Sharla Jo Meredith was well practiced in the fine art of not giving up. Still, there are only so many things that faith and determination can change.
The skin disease Sharla has, Pyoderma gangrenosum (PG), has no known cure, primarily because little research has been done on this rare condition. PG causes the skin to form large ulcers that become extensive and painful within days and sometimes hours. The prevailing medical wisdom said that surgery and debridement (removal of damaged tissue) were too dangerous for people with this disease. Sharla had already moved with her daughter from her home state of Michigan to Tennessee because her rapidly declining health meant she needed to be nearer to support and a research hospital. Even in Tennessee, however, her condition continued to worsen and became life-threatening.
[Left: Sharla before her PG diagnosis. Right: Sharla just after skin grafting treatment; shown with nurse Hannah Hays and Dr. Matthew Pompeo.]
However, Sharla persistently researched PG until, in October of last year, she found an article by Dr. Matthew Pompeo, a hyperbaric medicine specialist in the wound care unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. In the article, Pompeo argued that PG patients could be successfully treated with skin grafting and debridement. Thrilled to have found some hope, Sharla contacted Dr. Pompeo through the email address at the end of the article, and he set up an appointment with her for December.
Getting to Treatment
The problem was that PG is an autoinflammatory disorder that is controlled with immunosuppressant therapy. In other words, the very medicine that Sharla was taking to ease her symptoms was also suppressing her immune system, making it dangerous for her to fly on a commercial airline. Sharla needed to travel from Tennessee to Dallas, and her research skills again led her in the right direction: she found Angel Flight South Central, who coordinated a couple of long flight legs to get her to this much-needed treatment.