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The Kitsap Sun

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is the nation's  fourth-leading killer.
By Chris Henry, chenry@kitsapsun.com
December 10,  2005
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Sharon O'Hara of Silverdale smoked for 40 years before the day her  breathing problems became too severe to ignore.
 
"I crawled across the kitchen floor to get the food to feed my dogs,"  O'Hara said. "That's when I realized my breathing was not getting better." 

O'Hara, now 66, was able to kick the cigarette habit, but by then  the damage was done; she had emphysema and other lung problems that impaired  every aspect of her daily living.
 
Only through educating herself about COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary  Disease) was she able to manage her terrifying shortness of breath and resume  some semblance of the active life she had known.
 
Education, says O'Hara, is the key to living with COPD, regardless of the stage to which the disease has progressed.
 
People with COPD have a rare opportunity to hear from experts about  management and treatment of the syndrome at a seminar, "Living Well with COPD,"  11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle. The  event, sponsored by the American Lung Association is free, and is also open to caregivers and family members.
 
COPD is the fourth-leading killer in the United States (fifth in the  world), and the problem is becoming more widespread. Yet the amount spent on  COPD research and education ranks 17th after other more well known causes, such  as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and AIDS. O'Hara believes there is subtle  (and not so subtle) discrimination at work.
 
"The fact that about 80 percent of us smoked (some forms of COPD are inherited) shouldn't mean we don't deserve up-to-date medical information,  education and research," she said. "When will COPD-ers care enough about  themselves to get fired up, to ask for the same consideration other diseases  get?"
 
O'Hara got her online education about COPD from EFFORTS (Emphysema Foundation For Our Right to Survive; www.emphysema.net. Although her body was  telling her not to move to conserve breath, activity was the key to overcoming  her symptoms, she learned.
 
"Lack of breath decreases physical activity. It becomes a downward spiral,"  O'Hara said. "I was literally afraid to move. I was sitting around waiting to die."
 
Working with her doctor and using suggestions from the Web site, however, she developed a regimen that included daily physical exercise. Today she champions the rights of people with COPD, communicates with EFFORTS' online  support group and is considering starting a local support group.
 
"I found out there were ways to help myself," said O'Hara. "I didn't have  to die just because I couldn't breathe."
 
Learn About COPD
 
"Living Well With COPD," hosted by the American Lung Association of Washington will feature experts speaking on management and treatment of the  syndrome.
 
Time: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Date: Dec. 14.
Place: Swedish Cultural  Center, 1920 Dexter Avenue North, Seattle.
Cost: Free (includes lunch). 
Town Hall Luncheon in Seattle
Register: (206) 441-5100; costgerhaus@alaw.org
Info (and to  form a carpool): Sharon O'Hara, (360) 337-1454

 

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