THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – On average, we take about 16 breaths a minute. That works out to 960 an hour, 23,040 a day and more than eight million a year. Most of us do this without thinking. But for someone living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the simple task of breathing can be a challenge – every minute, every hour, every day.
A disease of the lungs, COPD is often silent – people can have it for years without knowing, until suddenly, they can’t breathe.
Calvin Young clearly remembers that day. One minute he was breathing normally. The next, he was gasping for air.
“Your lungs can just quit that quickly,” Young says. “You don’t know why you can’t breathe, but it’s severe enough that you have to seek medical assistance. Just that quickly, your life can change, and it’s scary.”
That’s why Young, along with Heather Cuff, decided to start a support group Every Breath Counts for people living with lung disease.
It launched today, November 19, to coincide with World COPD Day, a world-wide day of recognition held to spotlight and increase awareness of this silent disease.
Young and Cuff, who participate in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program (PRP) at St. Joseph’s Care Group (SJCG), want to help others living with chronic lung disease.
“We talked to people within and outside of PRP, and all agreed this would be helpful to those just diagnosed, as well as to those of us who have lived with COPD for several years,” Young says. “We can all learn from each other.”
Cuff agrees, and her story underscores the lack of awareness of the disease. As an active mother of two, working full-time and walking for exercise daily, she suddenly was having difficulty breathing. A series of tests led to the diagnosis of COPD. “What’s COPD?” she asked. Now, 20 years later, she still recalls her feelings of fear of the unknown, and how much it would have helped to be able to talk to others with similar experiences.
Young and Cuff have been planning the support group since last spring, with the support of Shelley Prevost, a Respiratory Therapist at SJCG.
“People with COPD can still have a great quality of life, but you will have to live it a little differently,” Prevost says. “It’s wonderful that this group will be there for those living with chronic lung disease and for their families. Their support and shared experiences will certainly offer valuable insight and information. ”
The support group will bring in speakers and specialists from the medical field, as well as address other areas of interest, such as how to improve air quality in your home. Recognizing that the emotional stress of COPD is often as debilitating as the physical symptoms, Every Breath Counts will also focus on providing support and assistance to those struggling emotionally.
Families and significant others are also welcome.
“COPD is hard on them as well, and we know that families can benefit from this information and support,” Young explains, stressing that the support group is for anyone with any lung health issue, such as lung cancer or cystic fibrosis.
The group will offer opportunities for socialization, which is very important because those with COPD often feel they cannot keep up with others and become socially isolated and withdrawn. Both Cuff and Young believe Every Breath Counts will have a positive impact on the lives of those affected.
“You can’t turn COPD around and make it go away. It’s there for the rest of your life,” Cuff says. “The key is to live the best life you can. Do the exercises, take your medications and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Live your best life. We think the support group will help you do that.”
St. Joseph’s Care Group is pleased to provide support to this group, says President & CEO Tracy Buckler. “The Every Breath Counts support program will meet a need in our community for those living with COPD, and their families,” she explains. “Support and education are key to improving COPD self-management, which means improved quality of life and fewer hospitalizations.”
Every Breath Counts will meet monthly at 7 p.m., alternating between Waverley Library and Mary J.L. Black Library. For more information, and the meeting schedule, please call Shelley Prevost at 630-1586.