Ted Koppel's Fight to Make COPD Headline News

From Drugs.com - December 7, 2017

Ted Koppel's Fight to Make COPD Headline News

THURSDAY, Dec. 7, 2017 -- The doctor who diagnosed Grace Anne Koppel with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) did not pull any punches.

She should start getting her affairs in order, because she only had three to five years left due to her incurable lung disease. Expect to be hospitalized and on full-time oxygen support within a couple of years.

"If you can think of a better way of demoralizing a patient than to tell them those things, I ca not imagine," said her husband, the award-winning newsman Ted Koppel.

That was 16 years ago. Despite her downer doc, Grace Anne remains very much alive, active and happy.

"I am still functioning, still working full-time, and pretty stable, at about 50 percent of lung function," she said.

The Koppels want all COPD patients to know that while there is no cure, they still can experience a long and full life. The lung disease can be effectively managed through medications and lifestyle.

So COPD patients should keep their hope alive, because their voices are desperately needed, the Koppels added.

COPD needs better funding, both for research and for treatment. But the disease has been largely ignored -- in part because patients are too downhearted to speak up.

An Overlooked Killer

COPD is the nation's third leading killer, after heart disease and cancer. About 150,000 Americans die every year from the disease, which causes a progressive loss of lung capacity and airflow.

Overall, about 30 million people in the United States have COPD, with about half of them suffering symptoms but remaining undiagnosed, according to the COPD Foundation.

"That's a national health crisis, and it's not being treated as such," Ted Koppel said. "Not by the medical community, not by the political community, and not by the patients themselves."

To draw attention to COPD, Koppel interviewed his wife for a report that aired on CBS's "Sunday Morning" last month.

Koppel noted that COPD ranks 155th in research funding at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"Diabetes, which kills 75,000 people a year, desperately needs research money and they get somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.1 billion a year," he said. "COPD, which kills twice that many -- 150,000 -- gets less than one-tenth that amount in allocations."

Grace Anne's Story

Grace Anne knew something was wrong with her health one hot summer day in 2001, when she found that she had to stop walking every few feet to catch her breath.

She went to her family doctor for a physical, but the doctor did not connect the dots that would have led to a COPD diagnosis.

Even though she had quit years earlier, Grace Anne was a former smoker. She also had a history of respiratory infections, including one that landed her in the hospital.

"These should have been clues that I was susceptible to developing lung disease, but these clues were not recognized," she said.

Her breathing continued to worsen, and a month later she collapsed. A major medical center tested her breathing and found that she only had 26 percent of her expected lung function. That's when the doctor told her to essentially draw the shades.

Grace Anne instead decided to fight for her health, aided by a pulmonary rehabilitation program prescribed by her lung specialist.

"It changed the course of my life," she said of the program.

Such a rehab program educates people about COPD, shows them how to exercise to improve lung function and change their diet. It also teaches people how to recognize changes in breathing that herald a sudden worsening of symptoms that amount to a "lung attack."

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