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Jean R., IA

I have emphysema, as well as chronic bronchitis. I smoked for 30 years and quit in 1992. I went to my family doctor in 2000, because I was having trouble breathing. Walking any distance was hard, and going upstairs was something I avoided like the plague. I think I saw my basement maybe once a week if I was lucky.

My doctor diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed a couple of inhalers. At that point, I knew it was probably COPD. Every time I caught anything, it went right to my chest.

Unfortunately, not exercising and feeling sorry for myself resulted in my significant weight gain over the next several years. By November 2002, I was on oxygen 24 hours a day. I had to have an oxygen concentrator at both my home and office. I also had to take a portable tank with me everywhere I went.

Things continued to deteriorate. By February 2003, I was having trouble showering, because breathing had become so difficult. Making the bed was a 20 minute activity requiring several rest breaks.

In February 2003, I landed in the hospital with what I now know was respiratory failure. I was sent home with round-the-clock oxygen support; a C-PAP machine for my sleep apnea; asthma inhalers and a nebulizer; multiple medications to manage my diabetes; and a prescription for Lasix to reduce swelling and fluid retention in my legs. I was a mess!

I received permission to exercise and embarked on an aggressive fitness regime complimented by a standard 1200 calorie diabetic diet. Between exercise and diet, I made a lot of progress. I got off the oxygen for good in January 2005; put my C-PAP machine in the closet; reduced the number of times I used my inhalers; reduced my diabetes medications from four a day to just one at a low dosage; and ended up with a whole new wardrobe.

Now retired, I volunteer for both the American Lung Association in Iowa and for EFFORTS, a patient run, online support and advocacy group. Clean air is critical for me. When the air quality is poor, I have a much harder time breathing and doing things outdoors. Sometimes, I even have to use my supplementary oxygen.

I've come to realize how precious clean air is and how much we all depend on it, regardless of whether or not we have lung disease. Clean air is going to be critical for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I'd like to leave them with a legacy that helps to prevent the development of lung disease and that legacy begins with clean air.

First Published: November 1, 2011

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