Growing Santa Barbara Center Helps Cystic Fibrosis Patients Stay Healthy
From her earliest days, Kristina de Bree has coped with cystic fibrosis (CF). When she transferred to adult care a decade ago, at age 19, she struggled to find the right clinic to help her live a positive and healthy life with the dangerous genetic disease, which typically inflicts its worst damage on the lungs.
She connected with pulmonologist Dr. Richard Belkin, who was starting his practice as a lung specialist in Santa Barbara and serving as co-director of a CF clinic in Ventura. When he became the medical director of the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Cystic Fibrosis/Bronchiectasis Center more recently, she was one of the first patients. “I have never found a more talented diagnostician, big-hearted caregiver and brilliant physician,” she says.
“We get patients from all over Central and Southern California,” Dr. Belkin says. Many choose to travel to Santa Barbara, rather than a center that’s closer, because of the personal care they receive for their CF.
CF centers play an important role in managing the disease and extending patients’ lives. CF is usually diagnosed early, so the first CF clinics and centers that developed 50 years ago were geared toward children. Those preventive efforts, along with advances in antibiotics, medicines and lung treatments, have boosted the median age of survival dramatically. “If you were born in the early 1960s, you were predicted to live to about age 10, and now you’re predicted to live until about 40,” says Dr. Belkin.
As a result, CF centers that serve adults have become increasingly important as well. Patients visit the Santa Barbara center quarterly and see Dr. Belkin as well as a nurse, physical therapist, respiratory therapist, nutritionist and social worker. Because CF can cause pancreatic problems, Dr. Belkin may ask patients to check in with digestive and endocrinology specialists as well.
De Bree continues to travel to see Dr. Belkin from Valencia, where she now offers psychotherapy services to people with chronic and terminal illness. “My health is flourishing,” the 29-year-old says, “and I have never felt better!" Dr. Belkin understands his patients’ struggles on a personal level. He grew up watching his older brother David deal with the disease, and decided to specialize in pulmonary medicine when David died at age 30, while waiting for a lung transplant.
Dr. Belkin envisions a time when the genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis can be corrected and says that two medications currently have FDA approval show promise. “I suspect there will be a cure in the not so distant future,” he says. “That’s every CF physician’s goal – to be put out of business.”
Call 805-569-8382 to schedule an appointment with the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Cystic Fibrosis/Bronchiectasis Center, located at 2409 De La Vina Street.