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Breathing New Life Into Purpose: It's Never Too Early, Never Too Late

By STACIE RUTH, MedSpeaks Contributor

How can you find a new purpose after a significant life event, for instance, a layoff? It depends on how you spend the days, months, even the year that follows.

This week marks the one-year anniversary since I left a stellar career of promotions and payouts and trade-offs. I had every intention of rising like a phoenix from the ashes and going bigger and harder toward the achievements that had sustained me for my first professional twenty years. And then it changed, I decided to take my experience in leading healthcare innovation in a big company and funnel all that momentum into changing the lives of those suffering from respiratory diseases.

While I was busy setting a new path and planning for the future this past year, some people were unable to walk outside, leave the chair in their living room, or take a deep breath because they suffer so heavily under the weight of a disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A severe, incurable lung disease, COPD is marked by stressful and threatening symptoms of phlegm build-up, severe coughing and shortness of breath. Although smoking is the leading cause of COPD, many patients have experienced socio-economic contributors such as poor indoor and outdoor air quality from toxins such as mold or smog, a history of uncontrolled asthma or being in a work environment that poses a respiratory health risk. I personally come from a family tree of construction and factory workers and have been witness to the dramatic health toll from exposures to certain materials and chemicals.

Beyond a quality of life that deserves enhancing, this past year 120,000 COPD patients died from complications of their disease, a number that represents one of the leading causes of death in our country. Sadly, according to the NIH, this impact is thought to be grossly underestimated because although 12 million people have been diagnosed, it is believed that an additional 12 million individuals in the US suffer without a formal diagnosis. We, as healthcare professionals and innovators can do better than this to improve prevention, diagnosis and management of this and similar respiratory diseases.

Perhaps if you have been impacted by, provided support for or have treated someone with COPD, you recognize the work of the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, known as GOLD. Their mission is to improve the lives of those touched by COPD. Similar to my search, it is never too early, never too late to support the purpose and efforts of GOLD, by participating in World COPD day on November 21, 2018.

To show our support, let's do the "straw test1."

The straw test is easy and takes only a moment to literally breathe new life into your awareness about lung disease and the purpose of prevention. Its simplicity is eye opening. Here's how it works:

  1. Take 4 straws (preferably Earth-friendly paper straws) and breath "normally" through them with your mouth. This is what a stage one COPD patient feels when they breath.
  2. Now drop to breathing through 3, then 2 straws and feel the difference.
  3. When you reach breathing through 1 straw, you will have a similar sensation to what a stage four COPD patient feels with every breath.

By the final step of this experiment, I was moved to tears. For a moment I was transported, barely breathing through the lungs of a beloved grandmother who died of this terrible, preventable disease.

To bring this full circle, as physicians and care providers, perhaps this activity can be performed in your office with patients, their family caregivers, and your staff so that they too can experience what breathing, something many of us take for granted, feels like as COPD progresses. And, maybe, this one simple activity will proffer a renewed purpose, awareness, empathy and motivation towards prevention and therapeutic compliance.

Support GOLD at www.goldcopd.org and make difference.

1 Source: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/48/suppl_60/PA2198


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