A breath of fresh air

Barry Pauley returned home from the doctor’s and broke the bad news to his family. He had just been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a condition whereby damaged lungs make breathing difficult. “My lungs are only working at 25 per cent of their capacity,” he told his wife, Val, and their three sons.

“Dad, you’re not going to be one of those old guys who drag around an oxygen tank?” asked one of his sons, greatly concerned about his dad’s health.

Well, yes and no. Pauley, a 73-year-old retired on-air radio personality living in Kitchener, Ont., does indeed need oxygen. Because of the COPD, his lungs aren’;t able to take in enough oxygen on their own. But, contrary to his son’s fears, this didn’t mean it was the end of the road. In fact, armed with a highly positive attitude, as well as having access to the latest medications, Pauley is taking better care of his health and continues to drive a car, golf and travel. He just has to use a lot more common sense when doing so.

What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a respiratory disorder that causes the airwayand lungs to become inflamed and blocked. The two major forms of COPD are the familiar conditions of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema damages and destroys lung tissue, causing air pockets to develop in the lungs. The air becomes trapped, and breathing becomes difficult. Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Mucus builds up, blocking the airways which causes coughing and spitting and leads to breathing difficulties. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death among Canadians but, unlike the others, its mortality rate continues to rise.

When Pauley was diagnosed 10 years ago, he had never heard of it. That’s not uncommon, as only 17 per cent of Canadians are aware of what COPD is. It’s a condition that affects more than 1.25 million Canadians, but only half have been diagnosed. COPD is mainly the result of years of smoking, though research suggests that occupational and air pollution may also play a role.

For Pauley, it was a lifetime of smoking. “I started when I was 12,” says Pauley. “And I continued smoking two to three packs a day until about 12 years ago. After I quit, I expected to feel better. But I didn’t. So I went to see my doctor who gave me a breathing test and told me all this smoking had taken away my lung capacity.”

Living well with COPD
To cope with his new diagnosis, Pauley started making lifestyle adjustments. He now carries oxygen around with him at all times, whether it’s driving, playing golf or going on a cruise with wife Val. He’s also had to learn to take things easy. “If I’m going upstairs and my breathing becomes restricted, I’ll just sit down on the stairs and take a break. Everything just takes a little longer.”

He’s also very careful to avoid picking up a cold or infection from others so as not to put extra stress on his lungs. Each year, he gets flu and pneumonia shots and is very careful not to come in contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing.

As well, his doctor has him on a course of inhaled medication, which aims to help him overcome breathing difficulties. This medication, which helps relax and open the airways, improves Pauley’s lung function, allowing him to breathe easier and remain active. And that’s important for all COPD patients because, without exercise, their condition can deteriorate quickly.

“I’m doing the best I can,” says an upbeat Pauley, who was looking forward to his first round of golf this year. “I know my lungs won’t get better so I’m doing all I can to prevent them from getting worse.”

How do you know if you have COPD?
• Are you a smoker or former smoker 40 years of age or older?
• Do you have a cough with mucus that doesn’t go away?
• Do you get a lot of chest infections?
• Do you get short of breath when doing simple activity like climbing stairs?

If you answered yes to being a smoker or ex-smoker and one of any other question, you may be at risk for COPD. Ask your doctor about a simple breathing test.

For more information on COPD, call 1-888-820-2673 (COPD) or visit www.COPDHelp.ca

This special educational feature was produced by the editors of CARP magazine and through an unrestricted educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd. and Pfizer Canada Inc.