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The nightly snorting and gurgling emanating from a sleeping husband or wife could be more than just a disturbance. It might indicate a health problem.

To help clients with such issues, Kilgore’s Respiratory Services has made education part of its mission. Co-owner Kelly Kilgore Bietsch said the Kilgore’s team wants to provide information about respiratory ailments and sleep apnea, especially to help patients comply with their physicians’ orders.

Kilgore’s Respiratory Services started in 2003 in a long, skinny room—a 6-by-10-foot closet in the back of the Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy branch at Chapel Hill. As the staff and services grew, the respiratory business moved with Kilgore’s main pharmacy from the Business Loop to a larger operation at 700 N. Providence in 2005.

In the early days, Bietsch carried patients’ medical charts home under her arm, in case a patient called. Now the number of patients the business serves has grown to about 1,400—way too many charts to carry under an arm. The growth also required expansion beyond the 10-by-12-foot office on Providence, so at the end of October 2007, Kilgore’s Respiratory Services opened a new facility at 3103 W. Broadway (in front of Wal-Mart, across from Hy-Vee). The 3,780-square-foot office provides space for nine employees, including three respiratory therapists with 47 years of combined experience.

“Now we can shut the door and have privacy with our patients,” Bietsch said.

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Therapists spend a lot of time educating patients, arranging for the proper equipment and following up to ensure that the equipment fits and is comfortable. Bietsch said the Kilgore team members develop long-term relationships with their patients and have an aggressive call-back program to check on them. Therapists also visit patients at their homes.

Bietsch and her husband, Fred, launched the business with the help of her brother, Bob Kilgore. Bob advised her to always “treat your patients like they are your mom and dad, and you will never go wrong.” In addition to Bob, Bill Morrisey and Ann Bromstedt supported the fledgling business. “They said ‘we’ll support you the first year, no matter what,’” Bietsch recalls.

Bob Kilgore recently retired from Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy, and the three remaining owners, all pharmacists, are purchasing his share of the business. Morrisey and Bromstedt bought into the business nine years ago, and Beth Stubbs joined them two years ago. Bietsch said the owners have worked at Kilgore’s for a long time, and “the business is not changing hands really. It is going to continue as always.”

Bietsch said she owes a lot to her mother, Ruth Kilgore, who was instrumental in starting the business. “We would talk for hours, weighing the pros and cons—which, by the way, were just about all pros.” Once the decision to launch the business was made, her mother joined in the move from St. Louis to Columbia and helps in everything from driving duty with the Bietsch children to billing to decorating the new store.

Bietsch said her husband, Fred, is the other half of the business.

“We talk about our business and how to run things from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep at night,” she said. “We keep thinking at some point we will stop doing that, but I don’t think it will happen. We love what we do. Fred takes care of anything and everything that I can’t.”

Bietsch said business decisions are based on patient care. Kilgore’s specializes in CPAP (constant positive airway pressure therapy) for sleep apnea, oxygen therapy for COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease) and nebulizer machines for asthma. Bietsch said screening for sleep apnea is a simple process that can be done at home. Kilgore’s furnishes a patient with a nighttime finger oximetery monitor that measures oxygen levels and heart rates. The device is brought back to Kilgore’s Respiratory Services, and the therapists send the report to the patient’s physician to determine whether a study at a sleep lab is warranted.

Sleep apnea is more common than many people think, Bietsch said. She didn’t realize she had it until about a year ago, and now she and Fred both wear CPAPs at night.

“Our motto is ‘we help people breathe better,’ and we do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. We have already been approached twice to sell our business, and all I could do was laugh and say ‘We are just getting started!’”

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