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Donna L., NJ

My family is no stranger to lung disease. My father developed occupational-related exposure asthma when he was in his 40's. With two teenage children and a new mortgage on a house, my father received devasting news from his doctors that he would not be able to work again.

However,  being the determined man and dedicated father that he was, he pushed through. He got himself stronger and was able to return to his job, even though it put his health at risk. You see, he worked in the subway stations of NYC fixing train tracks- a dangerous and dirty job.

Before that, he had worked doing maintenance work in a hospital that was an old establishment. It was back in the 1960's and 1970's when asbestos was still lining ceiling ducts. He was exposed to asbestos and developed asbestosis in addition to asthma. 

Over the years, his lung disease worsened. He was later diagnosed with COPD, although he had never smoked.  When he was 77, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He experienced numerous complications from the surgery, which were exacerbated by his lung disease. He was having recurrent pleural effusions. His surgeon wanted to place a chest tube to drain the fluid. The surgery was scheduled for Easter Monday in 2009.

I will never forget the somber mood as we gathered as a family to celebrate Easter nor will ever forget the call that I received while in the OR waiting room the next day that the surgery had been difficult- that they couldn't get the tube inserted since his lungs were like cast iron due to the asbestosis. When he came out of recovery, I went to visit him in his hospital room.

The vision that I saw is permanently seared in my brain. There he lay a shadow of the once poweful man that he had been- lying on his side gasping for air like a fish out of water. To see him in such a state was so traumatizing and devastating that it is almost 13 years later and I still can't bear the thought of it.

Despite all of the interventions and his cooperation with his physicians' advice to the tee, he passed barely seven months from that awful sight. I miss him every day but I know that I inherited his strength and his work ethic and that sustains me. I also inherited something else- I have been asthmatic since the age of two. Despite being a pharmacist, I too have suffered greatly from this disease.

Asthma has shaped my whole life and I’ve had to compromise in so many things from a very young age. From the pets that I could have (allergies to furry animals), to career choices (as a child I wanted to be a veterinarian), to my activity level (she never been able to engage in competitive sports), to my work environment (if a workplace is too warm, I end up with asthma flare-ups- lost a job because of this over the years), to my home environment (hard to clean because I’m allergic to dust and this becomes a vicious cycle between dust and flare-up).... all altered by a disease for which there is no cure.

When my daughter was 5, she was diagnosed with reactive airway disease... the legacy of lung disease continues in my family. I can only hope that one day there will be a cure for asthma and COPD so other families do not have to endure when my family has. One can dream, can't one?

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