Linda Reilly: When it comes to COPD, Knowledge is Power

Linda Reilly photoLinda Reilly of Fairfield County, Connecticut, is one of more than 7 million women in the United States who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease with no known cure that slowly robs its sufferers of the ability to draw life-sustaining breath.   Linda’s self-paced journey with COPD began 28 years ago when she was diagnosed with the disease at age 50.  A former smoker who had tried to quit many times before finally succeeding, Linda has seen her disease progress to the point where she now needs oxygen continuously. Yet despite the progressive nature of the disease and the challenges she faces, she remains optimistic about both her ability to manage her disease and to help others manage theirs.

“I was an educator for many years and I still consider myself to be an educator,” says Linda, who works for the COPD Foundation’s Information Line that connects patients and care givers with resources that can help them manage the disease. “Almost everything I know today about managing COPD I learned in pulmonary rehabilitation at Norwalk Hospital.  When I talk with newly diagnosed patients, I stress that this is a disease that is treatable and manageable and, hopefully, one day, it will be curable. In the meantime, I strongly recommend pulmonary rehabilitation and I wholeheartedly encourage people to attend the Lung Association’s Better Breathers Clubs. The combination of one-on-one treatment that you get in rehabilitation with the support that you get from other COPD patients at club meetings is a winning combination that can dramatically influence how well you cope with and manage your disease.”

When it comes to COPD, Linda wants others to know that knowledge is power. She says her relationship with her pulmonary rehabilitation specialist is akin to one an athlete and coach might have. “Your therapist works with you one-on-one, understands your condition well and develops a personalized strategy to help you maximize your ability to contend with COPD, while promoting confidence and independence.  Upon completion of rehab, a daily exercise routine is a must.  It will keep your body in shape while reducing stress and some depression.”

 “There’s a lot we can do to live well with COPD,” Linda says. “Things like attending pulmonary rehab, and support groups as well as reaching out to others and staying as positive as possible all help. There’s a lot of life left in all of us. Those of us who take advantage of the resources that are available and keep a positive mindset do the best. With creative thinking, we can start doing the things we always wanted to try, but never had the time: join a dance class, craft class, book club, complete the family genealogy. Curiosity and a computer will keep life new.”

November is COPD Awareness Month. COPD is known to affect 12 million Americans and it is estimated that another 12 million remain undiagnosed. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States. While there is currently no cure for COPD, it is treatable. Smoking remains the leading cause of COPD; if you or a loved one is a current smoker, quitting is the best way to reduce your chances of developing COPD or other chronic lung diseases. The American Lung Association’s “Quitter In You” is designed to help smokers successfully quit no matter how many times it takes.

According to the American Lung Association’s latest health disparity report, “Taking her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” women are 37 percent more likely to have COPD than men and now account for more than half of all COPD deaths in our nation. The report explores how COPD has become a major and increasing health threat for women, available in full at Lung.org/copdinwomen.

For more on the American Lung Association’s Better Breathers Clubs, visit www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/connect-with-others/better-breathers-clubs.