Living and breathing with COPD

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44Staff Report

Ernestine White, a Milford retiree, knows all too well the challenges associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, called COPD. COPD is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis.

It’s an all too common disease, according to Michel R. Samaha, MD, a pulmonary medicine specialist at Bayhealth Milford Memorial. He said COPD, characterized by shortness of breath, will be the third leading cause of death in the country by 2020, although it’s easily diagnosed by a single test.

Like many COPD patients, White is a former smoker who grew up in a household surrounded by family members who smoked. White has been an outpatient at Bayhealth Milford Memorial since 2007, where she continues to receive regular monitoring. The testing includes an annual visit to the hospital’s Pulmonary Function Lab where she gets a thorough evaluation. The battery of tests looks at the elasticity of the airways under stress.

A New York City native whose career in human resources took her across the United States and back, White and her husband retired to Milford nine years ago. She firmly believes that as she decreased her activity level in retirement, her health issues became more obvious. “Once you stop working, you stop activity, and you become more conscious of what’s wrong with you. I wasn’t aware of how serious COPD was or would be,” she said.

“It’s under recognized and under diagnosed. The earlier it’s caught, the better,” Dr. Samaha said. “There is no cure, but we can treat the symptoms, and we can educate the patient on how to manage the disease and what to expect,” he explained.

After her diagnosis, White was determined to learn how to slow the progression of the disease by attending the Better Breather’s Club, a support group offered by Bayhealth. She also went to pulmonary rehab at Bayhealth Milford Memorial.

“Rehab teaches about the disease, and how to deal with shortness of breath in the exercise program. And so much more. The classes are so thorough,” White said. “It makes me feel good when I come,” adding that she continues to monitor her progress with the annual pulmonary function test.

Families are encouraged to visit bayhealth.org/classes to learn more about the Better Breathers Club. To find a physician who can help manage a pulmonary disease, individuals call physician referral services at 1-866-Bay-Docs (229-3627).

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