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LUNG FORCE Heroes

Melissa G.

Melissa and Parents

As I think back on my many years working in health care, and pretty much every day, I have been asked by patients, colleagues, potential employers in job interviews this same question: "What drives you to want to work with patients with lung disease?" It usually only takes me a second to respond...I do this so people can understand what it is like to have people you love suffer with lung disease, and to hopefully help people quit this extremely addictive and destructive vice.

I was born in 1973, I was 3 months premature and weighed only 2.5 pounds. I was not expected to survive. I lived at the hospital in an incubator until I grew enough to go home. My mother was a smoker, smoked when she was pregnant, and with my brother as well. He was premature and ended up with cerebral palsy from birth trauma. Could be just bad luck, or it could be that it was caused by our mother's smoking. We don't have proof. But, what I CAN prove, is the effects it had on her, and my father's life as well. And on mine too.

My mom grew up in the south in the 1950's. Her father was a coal miner and, of course, a tobacco farmer. This started her lifelong struggle with tobacco. When I was 33, my mom had suffered with COPD since she was 45. At 61 years of age, she passed away in front of us in the hospital.

My dad had also smoked his whole life, from the age of 16. During the time my mom was struggling with COPD, she also was battling a brain aneurysm. Within 6 months, she had a near death on the first attempt to clip her aneurysm. They had to stop the surgery before they started because she wasn't healthy enough. Then she walked around with that unfixed for a few months before having to go to Iowa City to have it done successfully. We determined that the aneurysm was also from smoking.

After mom passed, my dad decided to FINALLY quit, and was determined to do so. He had attempted many, many times through the years and always came back to smoking. He bought a new Columbia jacket, his favorite, and told us that he would not wear this nice new jacket until he successfully quit. Well, he finally got to wear it. He quit in 2008. In 2010, he found out that he had non small cell lung cancer. Before he passed away, my dad told me that he did not quit smoking soon enough to escape developing lung cancer. In 2011, he lost his life as well. I was all of 38 years old, and had watched not one, but both parents suffer and pass away from smoking and the diseases it causes.

So, yes, you can say that I AM passionate about this. Before you light up next time, you can think about how your family will be affected and be missing you someday.

First published: November 13, 2019

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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.

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