New Mexico Health Centers Help Miners Fight Lung Diseases

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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An Endowed Chair in Mining-Related Lung Disease was established at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center to help miners fight medical problems associated with the occupation. The project is the result of efforts from the UNM and the Miners’ Colfax Medical Center (MCMC), and it was made possible due to a $1.5million donation from the Raton Hospital.

The newly-created chair is focused on battling mining-related respiratory diseases, which result from the demanding circumstances in which miners work, including exposure to dust and toxic materials. It will be led by UNM pulmonologist Akshay Sood, MD, who currently serves as a professor in the UNM School of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, as announced in a press release.

Sood has been investigating pulmonary diseases related to the industries of coal and uranium mining for years. His appointment is expected by UNM and MCMC to focus attention on black lung disease, a problem which occurs as a consequence of coal dust inhalation. “This is an important continuation of our 114 years of preventive and proactive care for miners through research-based medicine,” said MCMC CEO Shawn Lerch. “This will go a long way in positively affecting miners’ care.”

“Our combined mission is to improve the health and safety of miners, and we take this mission very seriously. Black lung can manifest 30 to 40 years after dust exposure stops, and we’re still seeing it in small mining communities throughout New Mexico,” stated Sood, who travels every month from the UNM to the MCMC to visit patients.

Founded in 1906, the MCMC is located in Raton, N.M, and it treats lung diseases in beneficiaries of the Miner’s Trust Fund of New Mexico, as well as other people from northeastern New Mexico and surrounding areas. With this purpose, Sood leads a unit that goes throughout the state’s mining communities and performs chest imaging and pulmonary tests. The screening efforts are then shared by satellite with worldwide specialists in miners’ disease, resourcing to telehealth technology.

According to Sood, the MCMC’s program, which joins both mobile screening throughout the state and clinic applications with current research investigations, has demonstrated more metabolic disease comorbidity and increasing incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than previously reported. “That is a strong argument for forming a national research center for miners while expanding the program regionally and ultimately across the country,” he added.

“Our collaborative program is unlike any in the U.S. This endowment will build on our existing relationship and strengthen community engagement to include counseling of miners’ benefits. It also will help attract faculty of national stature to work in clinical research and community engagement aspects of miners’ disease.”

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