Maggie Borger, of Glen Ellyn, Ill. (pop. 26,999), smoked for decades, and though she was chronically short of breath, she ignored that telltale symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
She got a wake-up call in 2004, when, at age 54, she became so sick that she barely could get out of bed. She made it to the hospital and spent the next 10 days in the intensive care unit. Because of the degraded state of her lungs, doctors told her five months later that she had about two years to live, and suggested she consider a lung transplant.
Instead, Borger decided to restore the health of her lungs on her own. She quit smoking immediately, improved her diet and started exercising, at first only walking from room to room. She got a puppy to keep her motivated to continue walking. Three months later, Borger’s health had improved enough that her doctor told her she no longer needed a transplant.
“I have learned to take charge of my disease, instead of it taking charge of me,” says Borger, now 60 and a busy grandmother.
To share her positive attitude and personal experience with others, she volunteers two days a week answering calls to the COPD Foundation’s Information Line. Here are seven of the most common questions she hears, along with her answers.
Q: The doctor told me I have COPD and have only a few years to live. What do I do now?
A: COPD is not a death sentence, but you do need to change your lifestyle according to your doctor’s recommendations. This may include pulmonary rehabilitation, exercise, proper medication and avoiding pollutants such as cigarette smoke that can irritate your lungs. The most important thing is to get educated. The COPD Foundation’s website, www.copdfoundation.org, and the free COPD Digest (available at www.copddigest.org) are great resources. The more you learn, the more proactive you can be.
Q: Is exercise vital to getting better?
A: A minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily is necessary to improve your quality of life. The more faithful you are, the more active you can stay.
Q: I’m a smoker. Do I have to quit?
A: Absolutely, yes! There is no wiggle room on smoking. Your disease will progress rapidly if you continue to smoke.
Q: What is Alpha-1 and should I get tested?
A: Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is the most common genetic cause of COPD. Doctors recommend that everyone diagnosed with COPD be tested for Alpha-1. Individuals living with Alpha-1 have a different treatment plan; therefore, it’s important to be tested.
Q: Can you ever be cured of COPD?
A: COPD is a progressive degenerative disease. There is no cure at the moment, but you can fight back.
Q: What are the rules for traveling with oxygen?
A: The Federal Aviation Administration permits passengers to bring portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) on board, based on several requirements. Some airlines permit only certain POCs and require advance notice, a physician’s referral and other documentation. Before booking your trip, contact your airline’s medical desk or officer and ask for guidelines.
Q: What is the COPD registry?
A: The COPD Research Registry is a confidential database of individuals diagnosed with COPD or at risk of developing the disease. The registry was established in 2007 by the COPD Foundation to help researchers learn more about the disease and to help people interested in COPD research find opportunities to participate. You can become a part of it at www.copdfoundation.org/research/research_registry.