GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Nearly 150,000 Oregonians face a disease that makes it hard for them to breathe everyday, but what is even more worrisome, is up to 50% of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may not even know they have it.
“I feel as well as you do,” explained patient Harry Harvey, “One little problem: I can’t breathe.”
About a year ago, Harry Harvey, a non-smoker, thought his shortness of breath and cough was just part of aging.
“In my case, I said, ‘I’m 80 years old, I should probably get a little short of breath or be tired’, but I didn’t realize until looking back, that there was a more serious problem,” Harvey recalled.
Harvey was diagnosed by his doctor as having two diseases: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and COPD, both impacting his ability to breathe.
“It really sneaks up on them; all of a sudden, they realize they can’t climb up a hill very well without experiencing increased shortness of breathe and they may have increased mucus, they may have a daily cough,” explained Shari Cunningham, a respiratory therapist at Asante Three Rivers Hospital.
COPD is an umbrella term for several diseases including chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Three Rivers Respiratory therapists say a diagnosis can make all of the difference.
“The sooner they can get their diagnosis, the sooner they can do things to improve their quality of life to slow the disease process down, so they can function for a longer time,” Cunningham said.
One year into his diagnosis, Harvey is chained to his oxygen tanks, but he says these tanks don’t stop life.
“We still go out, and go to a restaurant and so forth, it’s a little awkward, but no, life goes on,” said Harvey.
Anyone can get one of the COPD screenings next week. However, those over the age of forty and that have been around tobacco smoke or other pollutants are the most at risk. The screenings will happen next Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department in the Three Rivers Medical Plaza next to the hospital.