Posted on Monday 16 March 2020
Triathlete Beth Barrett had innovative asthma treatment at Guy's hospital
A former triathlete is cycling again after more than three years thanks to innovative asthma therapy she received at Guy’s Hospital.
Beth Barrett, 27 from Woking in Surrey, had competed in triathlons around the country and aimed to join Team GB one day. But at the end of 2016 her life changed when she had a severe asthma attack.
Beth, a communications officer, said: “I’d never had an asthma attack before so it was a total shock. I was intubated and kept in hospital for a more than a fortnight, and from that moment onwards I was never out of hospital for more than two weeks until last July.”
Beth was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma which was very difficult to control. She had frequent asthma attacks and was admitted to hospital around 21 times, where she needed intensive, invasive treatment to keep her airways open.
She said: “After each asthma attack it would take me weeks to be able to walk, climb stairs and breathe normally again, and then I’d have another attack. I was on a high dose of steroids for two years which had such a significant impact on me. I couldn’t sleep, my weight increased from 55kg to 80kg and I had lots of aches and pains, especially in my joints, which made day-to-day activity almost impossible.
“I found it very challenging in terms of my mental health. The steroids made me feel constantly anxious, I was withdrawn, short tempered and just not myself.”
Last May Beth was referred from her local hospital to the specialist severe asthma clinic at Guy’s Hospital, which is part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. She was told that a new drug, benralizumab, could help her.
Last year the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved specialist centres, including Guy’s, to prescribe the treatment. It is one of a new generation of biologic therapies which targets a specific inflammatory cell of the immune system called the eosinophil that causes inflammation in the airways of people with asthma.
The action of benralizumab is more precise than steroids and does not affect the rest of the immune system, consequently causing far fewer side-effects.
Beth started the injections in July and within a couple of months they had changed her life. She said: “I went from finding it soul destroying to be stuck in bed and always being in hospital to having no hospital admissions, exercising again, getting a new job and, ultimately, my life back. It’s had unbelievable effects.
“I’m on a very low dose of steroids now and within the last month or two I’ve been able to get back to the gym; lifting weights, jogging, swimming and cycling every day. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’m building back my fitness.
“The care at Guy’s has been brilliant. The team worked in partnership with my local trust, Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Respiratory teams from both hospitals worked on my treatment plan so they could manage the care for me from afar. I always see the same two nurses at the asthma clinic and they have a phone line so I can text them anytime. The respiratory physiotherapist was also fantastic and helped me to manage my condition and exercise again with increasing intensity.”
Beth has set up a local asthma support group to raise awareness of the condition. She said: “People underestimate asthma. The more you understand it, the better you can manage your symptoms and avoid hospitalisation.
“I want to use my experience to help others, raising awareness and promoting education. Now I feel more like myself – it’s like someone has pulled the curtains back.”
Dr David Jackson, severe asthma consultant and clinical lead for Guy’s severe asthma centre, said: “We care for the largest number of severe asthmatic patients on benralizumab in Europe and treat around 500 patients like Beth with biologic therapies. They have transformed the care of patients with severe asthma in terms of day-to-day symptom control and frequency of asthma attacks as well as reducing steroid exposure and their associated side-effects.
“As in Beth’s case, it’s given many patients a new lease of life. Patients have typically been anxious about doing normal activities such as going on holiday, exercising and working, and for them these treatments have been life changing.
“Beth has done very well with benralizumab and I'm delighted for her. It’s very rewarding for the asthma team at Guy's to see such a huge improvement in her and in so many of our patients with severe asthma.”