Lee Vogel
The Chronicle
November 16, 2005


COPD not a death sentence, author says

By Carrina Stanton

Adam Amato / The Chronicle

Lee Vogel lives with emphysema, and to do simple tasks such as going outside, he needs to bundle up and take his Helios personal oxygen system to be able to breathe. Vogel is also sort of a local spokesperson and published author about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an umbrella term for illnesses such as emphysema, asthma and lung disease.


Cover your mouth and nose with your hands. Now, try a simple task such as walking up a short flight a stairs.

For Leeland Vogel, Napavine, that suffocating feeling is a daily experience.

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease the past five years, Vogel has seen his quality of life quickly decline. Simple tasks such as making lunch, shaving or even gardening are a bigger deal when it’s hard to breathe.
“It’s with you every minute of every day,” Vogel said.

The umbrella term COPD applies to ailments ranging from asthma to lung disease. The Global Initiative for COPD, which sponsors today’s World COPD Day, estimates COPD affects 600 million people worldwide. More than 120,000 annually die from COPD, making it the fourth deadliest disease worldwide.

For Vogel, a COPD diagnosis began when he started to have difficulty climbing the stairs to his second-floor office. In 1997, his doctor told him he had emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis, most likely caused by 35 years of smoking. In retrospect, Vogel said, the biggest lesson he learned was the danger of smoking.

“As far back as when I was 19, when I just started smoking, I remember things, and, oh boy, do I kick myself,” Vogel said. “At the time I didn’t realize what it was. It was my body reacting to the smoke and the carcinogens.”

Within three years of his diagnosis, Vogel’s disease got so bad he became a prisoner in his own home. High pollen counts, heavy fumes, even a high-enough temperature difference between indoors and out (hot to cold or cold to hot) meant he had to stay indoors or risk a life-threatening attack. He had to move from the Seattle area to Lewis County, seeking better air quality. He said the disease progression was difficult for him and for his family members, who struggle to understand COPD.

“I couldn’t attend any family functions in the fall, spring or winter. That gets to be very hurtful to everyone in the family,” Vogel said. “My stepfather died in March of old age at the age of 97, and I could not attend because it was colder than the dickens that day.”

Sondra “Sandy” Carter, Vogel’s significant other of almost six years, remembered the first time she saw the effects of COPD. The two were bringing the groceries in up a short flight of stairs.

“It took him five or 10 minutes, and he was just gasping for air, and that was terrifying,” Carter said.

In October 2002, Vogel underwent lung volume reduction surgery, where the upper one-third of both lungs was removed, thereby removing most of the cancerous growth. The result was Vogel is now able to leave his house more often, though he must still be mindful of the same triggers.

“It’s like having the weight of the world lifted off your chest, and you didn’t realize you were struggling that much to breathe,” Vogel said.

Bottled oxygen is a daily reality for Vogel even after his surgery. When he’s out, he carries a portable “puffer,” which is good for eight hours. He also carries a tank of liquid oxygen in his car at all times, and on bad days, he’s hooked to a compressed air machine by a hose. In all, he estimates the oxygen costs $500 to $1,000 per month.

In addition, Vogel keeps a “jump bag” of clothes and medication next to his back door for emergency situations, and always carries a bag full of medications with him, including several kinds of inhalers.

“Like everyone else, I’m going to die, but with COPD, your life will be accelerated and you will die sooner,” Vogel said. “We say COPD is not a death sentence if you will make the life changes you need to, and listen to advice from your doctor.”

To deal with the fear and frustrations of COPD, Vogel started writing a few years ago. Slowly, he compiled a collection of poems highlighting life with the disease. Last year, Vogel published a book of his poetry called “Huffin’ n Puffin: Living with COPD,” which is being featured the next two months in the American Lung Association’s magazine.
In commemoration of World COPD day, today, Vogel also donated a copy of the book to the Centralia Timberland Library. Vogel said he’s excited to see his book become successful, but hopes it becomes a medium to reach others. If his writing can inspire one person to quit smoking or to see a doctor about being short of breath, he said, he’s done his job.

“This is really not about me, it’s about helping other people,” Vogel said. “(People living with COPD) want to help others to either keep them from getting it or to improve their lives with it.”

Carrina Stanton covers municipal government and health for The Chronicle. She may be reached at 807-8241, or by e-mail at cstanton@chronline.com .

The following is Leeland Vogel’s first published poem. It may be found in From “Huffin’ n Puffin,’ ” an Infinity Publishing product.


One Fine Day
The weather outside, it’s sunny and bright,
People are playing, they shout with delight,
At a warm springy day, with wonderful sight,
Of birds, trees and grass, impervious to plight.

I ache to be with them, to join in the fun,
To share a few laughs, even throw in a pun.
But, alas I am hostage, as if held by a gun,
Ravages of illness prevent fun in the sun.

My breathing is heavy. It’s the pollen you see,
Makes my life difficult, coupled with C-O-P-D.
I try just to walk, ‘round my pea patch by the sea,
Suddenly there’s dust! Cruel, how breezes can be.

My weight has gone up, steroids meds they took hold,
Illness kept me inside while the weather was cold.
My health spirals down, I must avoid mold,
Awaiting procedures that can restore me to bold.

To all who might read this, I’d just like to say,
Don’t ever try smoking, not even one day.
For sooner or later, you will have to pay,
By watching the others enjoy the fine day.



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