Posted on November 11, 2017 |
Not only is Debbie a patient advocate with the COPD Foundation, she is also one of the millions of Americans with COPD. The third-leading cause of death in the US, COPD is disproportionately underfunded and underrepresented. Read Debbie’s story to learn more.
Like many people with COPD, Debbie ignored the warning signs for many years. At age 60, she struggled just moving around the house, getting short of breath going room to room. “At that time, I was diagnosed with COPD by my primary care doctor based on an X-ray. Two years later I quit smoking and 6 months after that I saw a pulmonologist for the first time. This is when I received my first proper diagnosis. The results were early stage 4 emphysema, very severe obstruction and moderate diffusion.”
That was almost 5 years ago. Debbie is able to live independently and continues to work full time. As a programmer, “I am incredibly fortunate that my work is not physical and I am able to work from home 3 days a week.”
That doesn’t mean that everything’s been easy. “There are many things I can no longer do and many things take me longer to do. I can no longer walk the beach or walk the boardwalk. There are events I have to decline because of the amount of walking, hills or stairs. I can walk slowly for roughly 20-30 minutes and then I have to take care that my O2 does not get too low.” But exercise has helped. “Things have changed but they have not stopped. Because I am committed and passionate about my exercise, poor lungs aside, I am in better shape today than I have been in decades.”
Debbie’s pulmonologist had her in rehab within two months of her first visit. She followed that up with a level 3 pulmonary exercise program (strength training) that helped her get past all the barriers she thought were holding her back. “More than any one thing exercise has helped me both physically and mentally to deal with this disease. Since that first day of pulmonary rehab, I have not stopped exercising. I am convinced this is what has kept me functioning so well. Everything is better with exercise, it truly is the closest thing we have to a magic pill.”
Debbie considers her situation “unusual” and knows she is “extremely fortunate in many ways. I have been able to continue working while doing pulmonary rehab, with all my doctor visits, all the tests, all the time off.” The president of her company recently lost his mother to emphysema so “he understands on a level most employers cannot”.
Debbie lives within 50 miles of more than a dozen hospitals “including some of the best in the country. Some people drive hours to see their pulmonologist, some don’t see a pulmonologist—I have dozens to choose from. I also have a choice of pulmonary rehab facilities and wellness/fitness centers. Some people don’t have access to pulmonary rehab or a facility for supervised exercise. My copay for my medications is manageable, for many it is not. I am extremely fortunate.”
She became the COPD State Captain for New Jersey and an advocate to help others like her. “Until they find a cure there is much that can be done to improve the lives of people with COPD—affordable maintenance medications, better access to pulmonary rehab and better access to appropriate supplemental O2 enabling patients to continue to live productive and active lives.”
Debbie will be presenting her story during the World COPD Day webcast “Living Well, Staying Well: Faces of COPD” held on November 15, 2017 at 11a EST. Register here to listen a panel of patients and a respiratory therapist on tips and inspiration for living a full life with COPD.
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