Living A Full Life — Even With COPD

One of the nation’s first female TV news photographers, Carol Thompson is a bit of a news story herself.

While covering the Mt. St. Helens volcano eruption, she had to be airlifted out of the blast zone by the National Guard.

After scaling Mt. Adams (lugging climbing and video gear) Carol nabbed an Emmy nomination for her documentary, Summit of Hope: The Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

She’s interviewed the likes of the Dali Lama, President George Bush and President Bill Clinton. Oh, and she’s a second degree black belt in karate.

Today Carol is 70 years old –– and still on the move.

Swooshing down ski runs, mountain biking or simply prepping her garden for the winter, Carol knows that to stay mobile, you have to stay mobile.

Before you think Carol won the genetic lottery, she’s the first to tell you her knees, hips, feet, vision –– all surgically repaired. She’s suffered from celiac disease long before it was understood or treated properly. And there’s one diagnosis that stopped her cold.

“I witnessed my mom’s painful death from COPD. So, when my doctor told me I had COPD, that hit hard,” says Carol.

The Sixth Biggest Killer In The US

Carol is one of almost 330 million people worldwide suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. The sixth deadliest disease in the US, COPD is a large group of lung diseases – like chronic bronchitis and emphysema – characterized by painful restriction of normal breathing. At COVID’s height, COPD patients were high risks of infection, sepsis, pneumonia and death.

“My mom and I both smoked in our youth and I grew up around her secondhand smoke. I knew what was ahead of me if I didn’t play this smart.”

“Because I didn’t ignore my early symptoms – extreme fatigue and difficulty catching my breath – my COPD was caught early and I’m able to live an active lifestyle,” says Carol.

Your Health Span vs. Life Span

“Carol is an example of a good health span,” says Consonus Healthcare Director of Clinical Services, Jamie McKinley, PT, CEEAA.

”Everyone knows what an expected lifespan is. But we need to talk more about your expected health span –– that period of life where you’re living free of chronic conditions and disabilities or free of the serious effects of a chronic condition. Our AgeSTRONG wellness classes and personal fitness training are designed to extend your health span. We’ve also created programs for seniors living with COPD.”

Targeting COPD

Consonus Healthcare and AgeSTRONG clients with COPD are benefiting from the Body Strong and Chronic Conditions programs.

“Skilled nursing facility residents often have multiple chronic conditions,” says Jamie. “Our therapists measure the patient’s cardiopulmonary tolerance and aerobic capacity needed for everyday activity –– personal hygiene, exercise, walking. We teach how to self-monitor and recognize how the body is responding to exertion, then make the right adjustments.”

“And our Body Strong Program is a wellness program offered to medically stable individuals who may reside in independent or assisted living communities or even in nursing facilities.”

In this blog, you’ll learn, as Carol did, how to:

  • Live a full life, even with COPD
  • Avoid COPD
  • Recognize COPD symptoms

4 Ways to Fight COPD

#1 How do I avoid getting COPD?

#2 How do I recognize the symptoms of COPD?

Discomfort and pain. Imagine feeling like your lungs are tightly constricted, unable to adequately take in and push out air. That’s one of the more obvious and painful red flags for COPD. Here are more:

  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic cough
  • Inability to engage in normal activities like enjoying a walk or engaging with friends and family.
  • Anxiety that comes from the emotional toll these physical symptoms are having on your body and mind.

If you feel any of those symptoms, contact your doctor immediately and ask for a COPD test, called a spirometry. It’s fast and simple. Using a mouthpiece, you take in your biggest breath possible then blow that breath out as hard as you can. Check out this video to see what you can expect. And learn more about identifying COPD in this Marquis blog.

#3 If I’m diagnosed with COPD, what is my treatment?

Along with your doctor’s recommendations, you can adopt the Marquis Deep Breathing Program, easy steps developed by our own healthcare professionals. Get started right away and do it daily.

  • Precisely take your daily medications including the metered dose inhalers. These devices can be expensive and easy to use the wrong way. Also, take charge and ask your provider to review all your medications once again. Here’s what to ask:
    • What are my medications?
    • Do any of them interfere with one another?
    • Am I taking them at the right dose and right time of day/night?
    • Do I need a tracking system like med boxes?
  • Exercise. That comfy recliner or couch is not your friend. Too much rest is the green light for mucus to move into a nice, warm environment – our lungs – settle in and grow bacteria. Movement shakes things up! Your doctor or therapist can suggest simple exercises or walking plans that give you time to rest between movements. You can also check out some of our Marquis fitness recommendations on fitness and balance.
  • Eat a Heart Healthy Diet. Obesity and heart disease often accompany COPD. The colorful, Mediterranean diet is best. Increase your proteins and good fats as you age. And lower carbohydrates and Always check with your doctor before making any changes in your diet.
  • Avoid Infections
    • Double up on handwashing. COPD patients are more vulnerable to disease and infection. 20 seconds –– that’s how much time it takes to kill germs. Don’t want to count? Just sing Happy Birthday to yourself, two times.
    • Stay up to date on your vaccinations. For those over 60, add the RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) vaccine. Many rehospitalizations (where there are plenty of germs) for COPD patients are due to colds, flues and COVID. All affect your lung health. Stay away from anyone who is sick and don’t be afraid to use your masks again.

#4 What does it mean to know my COPD “Zone”?

If you have COPD, it’s important to pause twice a day and check how you’re doing. You can identify them in colors in this COPD Action Plan but here are the definitions of each zone.

  • Green Zone
    Here’s where you want to stay. This is the goal. In the green zone, symptoms are under control. You’re sleeping well. You aren’t experiencing shortness of breath or coughing.
  • Yellow Zone
    This is the beginning of the warning period. Symptoms include increased coughing, shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, less energy, cold symptoms, feeling the need to use your rescue inhaler (separate from the regular inhaler) to quickly open the lungs. If you’re in the yellow zone, call your doctor immediately and provide an update on your condition. Your doctor may order some lab work, chest x rays or change your inhaler and prescribe antibiotics.
  • Red zone
    Symptoms in the red zone include significant shortness of breath, inability to perform basic activities, the rescue inhaler no longer helps, there’s chest pain, fever and even coughing up blood. This may signal a secondary infection from the mucus sitting in the lungs. This is life threatening. Call 911. Go to the emergency room.

Many of these tips are keeping Carol and millions of other people with COPD, living their best lives.

“I’m managing great right now, waxing my skis in time for the winter season,” says Carol. “I use my steroid inhaler two times a day and my rescue inhaler when it gets a little hard to climb up all my stairs or up to the chairlift.”

“My advice for living a long, independent, healthy life is don’t smoke. Ever. Breath deep and keep your body moving!”