Spring 2013
Helping children breathe more easily

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Dr. Sonia Budhecha does a checkup

Pulmonology patient Riley, right, gets a check-up from her long-time physician Dr. Sonia Budhecha as her mother, Marcie, looks on. Photo by Stuart Murtland.

Specialists treat young patients with asthma, sleep apnea and cystic fibrosis

By Anne Pershing

Few sounds will drive parents into a panic like the raspy struggle of a child with lung problems trying to draw a breath.

Fortunately for Nevadans, the School of Medicine has pediatric pulmonologists at both ends of the state to treat these young patients.

Sonia Budhecha, M.D., heads the pediatric pulmonology clinic for the School of Medicine in Reno.

"The main conditions I treat are asthma, lung diseases of prematurity, cystic fibrosis, chronic cough, sleep apnea and congenital airway problems," said Budhecha, who graduated from medical school at the University of Washington in Seattle. She did both her pediatric residency and pediatric pulmonology fellowship at Seattle's Children's Hospital before settling in Reno in 1997 with her husband, Chris von Bartheld, professor of physiology and cell biology at the School of Medicine, and their two daughters.

"While my practice is mainly clinical, I also teach first-year medical students about lung development and third- and fourth-year students and family practice residents about the treatment of pediatric lung diseases," she explained.

According to Budhecha, the School of Medicine's Reno pediatric clinic is fairly unique for Nevada because it has a combined pediatric pulmonary and allergy division.

"Children are able to have their lung problems and allergies diagnosed and treated under one roof. I work with both local neonatal ICUs and all babies that continue to have breathing problems or are discharged on oxygen therapy.

They follow-up in my clinic, which is our bronchopulmonary dysplasia clinic, and is the only one in Northern Nevada," she explained.

Budhecha also runs the only Cystic Fibrosis Foundation-accredited cystic fibrosis center in Northern Nevada, in partnership with Renown Children's Hospital.

"We serve both children and adults with cystic fibrosis," she said. "Dr. Aditya Bhargava, the school's sleep medicine specialist, and I treat children with sleep apnea. Also, in collaboration with Renown Children's Hospital, I run the region's only pediatric airway clinic, a multi-disciplinary clinic that treats children with tracheotomies and ventilators."

As for Budhecha's bedside manner, she gets high marks from one of her young patients.

Seven-year-old Riley, who gets treated for chronic lung disease and asthma, is crazy about her doctor. The daughter of Marcie Lucas, who works in the medical school's Office of Medical Education, asked her daughter about her thoughts concerning Dr. Budhecha.

Riley replied, "She's sweet, kind, nice and helpful, and because if you're scared, she makes you stop being scared by saying it's okay. You don't have to be afraid." When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Riley answered, "I want to be a doctor like Dr. Budhecha because she makes it look fun!"

Children in Las Vegas are also getting help from the School of Medicine in the form of David Parks, M.D., who explained that as a pediatric pulmonologist, 90 percent of his work is with children who have asthma. He added that help is also available in Southern Nevada for children battling cystic fibrosis.

"Dr. Craig Nakamura, who is in private practice and affiliated with the medical school, has a clinic for these children. We're the only two pediatric pulmonologists in Vegas and we cover and help each other."

Parks, who received his medical education from the University of Florida, said the school's pediatric pulmonology clinic is open five days a week. He sees an average of 16 patients a day with those visits taking 30-45 minutes per patient.

He pointed out that this academic year, the School of Medicine established a public school-based asthma clinic and he travels to Clark County schools to see children who need care.

"The school nurses identify asthma patients, then I come in with sample medicines and educate the child and his or her parents about asthma. I then do a follow-up. We've been able to help them with asthma control and have been able to turn things around for them. We're very proud of what we're doing at the schools. The parents are very grateful."

Parks, who joined the faculty in 2000, said turning things around for his patients is his first priority.

"I want each child to laugh, cry-to be a healthy kid. My wife Angie and I have six kids and seven grandchildren. We love children and the best part of my job is helping to improve a child's lifestyle and their lives while educating their parents. Sometimes parents restrict their children too much, but they're quick to learn what ultimately benefits their child. It's very rewarding for the parents and myself to see the children laugh, run, control their coughing and be more active with sports."

The Kids' Healthcare Clinic is located at 3006 South Maryland Parkway, Suite 315 in Las Vegas. For information, call (702) 992-6868. In Reno, the pediatric clinic is located at 343 Elm Street, Suite 206. For information, call (775) 784-6522.