Local man shares his COPD story to help others

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, November 22, 2013

JANESVILLE—David Quaerna hopes his story helps discourage others from starting smoking.

Quaerna, 82, Janesville, enjoys fishing and spending time with his family, but he struggles daily with breathing, walking and climbing stairs.

He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Although it is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, it is less well known than other diseases, said Debbie Fischer of Youth2Youth of Rock County, a coalition of youth and adults countywide whose mission is to create a drug-free community through partnerships in education and advocacy.

That's why Quaerna is willing to share his story during COPD Awareness Month. He hopes to help others avoid the health problems of COPD.

"If you're thinking about smoking, don't start. Later in life, your lungs and hearts won't be in good shape," the retired teacher said.

Quaerna was diagnosed with COPD in 1972. Like most COPD sufferers, his was the result of smoking--cigarettes, cigars and pipes--that he began as a teen, doctors said.

After three open-heart surgeries, Quaerna quit smoking 13 years ago. If he didn't, he knew he would be on oxygen lying in bed or die a lot sooner.

Living with COPD is a chore, Quaerna said.

Walking from the dining room table to the kitchen wears him out.

"Things—moving, walking and lifting—that used to be simple are not simple anymore,” he said.

"Smokers have a three times greater risk for all vascular diseases," said Larry Bergen, director of Beloit Health System quality reporting and community health.

Common COPD symptoms include shortness of breath and trouble catching breath while doing even minimal activities, such as standing up and walking 10 feet, he said.

"Lung capacity is greatly reduced," Bergen said.

A classic COPD patient eventually has to use oxygen, he said.

Bergen uses two inhalers--one four times a day, the other twice a day--to open his airways. The drugs come with a $569 monthly price tag.

Although COPD can be treated with medication, there is no cur, Bergen said.

"The closest thing to a cure is a lung transplant that is available to very few people," he said.

To avoid getting COPD, Bergen said:

-- Don't smoke

-- Recognize second-hand smoke puts you at some risk plus

-- Be supportive and understanding of smoking regulations and ordinances.

Fischer said smoking remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death, while second-hand smoke ranks fifth. That's why Rock County Youth2Youth continues its local tobacco-free prevention efforts of educating elementary students about the danger of second-hand smoke and about what children can do to stay away from smoke if someone in the house smokes.

The coalition last year helped convince four large apartment complexes to go smoke free in Rock County.

“These are still very serious issues that we continue to make people aware of and work on prevention because they're not going away," Fischer said.

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