Living with COPD

5:56 PM, Nov 18, 2010   |    comments
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PRIOR LAKE, Minn. -- It's the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people annually than breast cancer and diabetes combined. 

It's called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and most often it's caused by smoking.

Seventy-one-year-old Marty Lannon of Prior Lake was diagnosed with emphysema, a form of COPD, 14 years ago.

His wife, Mary Beth Lannon said, "I thought our life was ending.  We both did."

His labored breathing is tough to listen to, even tougher to live with.

Lannon said, "If I knew then what I know now I would not have smoked."

While COPD is a devastating disease, Lannon doesn't just sit in his chair and look out at the lake.  He carries oxygen as he 4-wheels, snowmobiles, hunts and golfs, albeit much more slowly.

He said, "I'm so fast that I have to stop and let my breath catch up."

More than 24 million Americans have COPD but half of them don't know it.  Chronic bronchitis can also be a form of COPD.

Dr. Joseph Graif of Cities Lung Clinic in Fridley and the American Lung Association said while exposure to chemicals can cause COPD, smoking by far is the biggest cause.

Graif said, "The end result is damage to the lung tissue as well as to the airways that bring air into the lung tissue."

Showing x-rays of two lungs, Graif said in a healthy lung, the diaphragm at the bottom of the lungs is curved because it flexes... In those with COPD, it's flat because damage to the lung forces it down, making it tougher to breath.

He said, "The result is increased breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, often times cough and sputum production and exercise intolerance."

Lannon said he ignored his symptoms for years.  He said, "I would be very out of breath.  I would have to stop and rest."  He said he just told himself he was out of shape.

Now oxygen tanks help him breath, even as he went tubing over the summer with his kids and grandkids on Prior Lake.  COPD may have robbed him of his ability to breath, but not to have fun.

He said, "They said what if you fall off and I said well follow the bubbles and you'll find me."

Graif said those with COPD are usually not diagnosed until their late 50s and early 60s. By then the damage is done.  So he urged smokers to quit and those with symptoms to see their physicians because he said medication can slow progression for some patients.

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