Felicia O., IL | American Lung Association

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Felicia O., IL

I’m an activities specialist at a residential property and a certified health coach. I also have a very unusual respiratory condition. I have experienced three spontaneous collapses of my lungs since 2008. The medical term for this condition is a pneumothorax.

Usually people experience a collapsed lung from a car accident or a severe trauma, but to this day, doctors still do not know why it happens to me. I have never smoked, have no previous history of lung disease and have always led a healthy lifestyle.

The first time it happened my back was bothering me, and it felt like I had a build-up of gas. I thought it might help to take a walk around the mall, but it didn't. When we got back home, my strange symptoms didn't let up and I started having trouble breathing. That's when I decided to go to the urgent care center. Thank goodness I did.

When the doctor who examined me said my lungs were 100 percent collapsed, I was shocked. They rushed me straight to the hospital, where I stayed for 12 days. I had a chest tube inserted to keep my lungs inflated, but every time they tried to remove it my lungs would deflate again. Sometimes a spontaneous pneumothorax clears up on its own, but mine didn't. Finally I had to have surgery.

Everything started going downhill after that. If you've had one pneumothorax, your risk for another increases greatly. About a year later, my lungs collapsed a second time. The third occurrence was in 2012. Each time, the doctors would be scratching their heads trying to determine the cause. For a short time there was concern that I might have lupus or COPD, but both were ruled out.

My lungs are by far the weakest part of my body. Being around cigarette smoke really bothers me, and in the winter, I can develop a cold and cough very easily. Commuting to work and getting stuck behind a car with heavy tailpipe exhaust is also a big concern. I never know how my lungs might react to inhaling all those toxins, and I certainly can't just hold my breath.

That's why I strongly support the EPA's proposed gasoline and vehicle emissions standards, which are poised to significantly improve the health of the air we breathe and allow my commute to work to involve a lot less worry.

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