Glenn Blundell - Mosgiel
When Glenn Blundell was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease six years ago, the 59-year old’s first question was ‘What’s that?’.
“I had never heard of it before. Then the doctors mentioned emphysema and that was a real shock because I’ve always been fit and healthy. I’ve played a lot of sports and all the jobs I’ve done have been physical jobs,” he says.
Glenn’s experience was typical of many with the condition, as he ignored the early signs of breathlessness and a bad cough that wouldn’t go away. “I had asthma, so I thought it was just that playing up. But it was different. This breathlessness came on suddenly and I was getting puffed just going up the stairs.”
It wasn’t until he collapsed at work and ended up at Dunedin Hospital, that the seriousness of his condition became clear. “They diagnosed me with COPD and told me I had to pretty much stop working immediately.”
Glenn grew up in Christchurch in the 1960s in a household where both parents smoked. He went on to become a smoker, although he quit after his COPD diagnosis. He also worked in factories and recalls using industrial cleaners without masks.
“They don’t know really what caused it for me, the smoking didn’t help, but it makes me mad when people say it’s a smokers’ disease. There's more to it than that. Many smokers don’t get it and then non-smokers get it too,” he explains.
Glenn’s condition has now progressed to where he is reliant on an oxygen machine, regular medication and a BiPAP machine to help with sleep apnoea at night. He admits life is a struggle. “Sometimes I feel just over it. I’ve lost my independence and after being someone who started working at 14 years old, it's very hard to deal with.”
His hope is by sharing his experience, people who have early signs of COPD will get them checked out. "There's no cure for COPD, but it can be managed. The earlier you know, the better chance you have of managing it."
Glenn also hopes that more New Zealanders become familiar with the term COPD and understand what it means. “You might hear someone puffing away and think they are just unfit, but it can be so much more than that. These people have lungs that aren’t working properly.” He also points out that people with COPD are particularly vulnerable to infections, viruses and flus, as every respiratory illness causes more permanent damage to their lungs.
While Glenn’s daily life mainly revolves around managing his COPD, he still finds enjoyment in spending time with friends. He is especially grateful for the support of his local Mosgiel community. “My advice is to enjoy what you’ve got, when you’ve got it,” he says.
Katherine Cosgrove – Matamata
At 38 years old, Katherine Cosgrove is one of the younger people in New Zealand living with COPD. She was diagnosed three years ago, after becoming increasingly breathless and finding it harder to recover after exercise.
“I have had asthma since I was nine, so my first thought was my inhalers have stopped working. But then it got to the point where I was struggling to walk to the mailbox and I realised something wasn’t right,” she explains.
Subsequent testing found that Katherine’s lungs were working at 37% capacity, and she was diagnosed with COPD and sarcoidosis of the lungs. “It really surprised the doctors because I was so young. It surprised me too, because I thought of it as an old person’s disease.”
Medical professionals have not been able to explain why she has COPD, with Katherine not exposed to any of the usual causes. "I’ve never smoked, never worked around gases or dust and I live rurally. I’m a bit of a mystery.”
Katherine has always lived an active live. She played badminton at a competitive level, works as an early childhood teacher and has two teenage children with her husband. Accepting the realities of COPD has been a challenge. “I’m slowly accepting that I can’t do everything I used to do. I try to keep active and healthy, but I also need more time to rest and recover.”
As an invisible disease, Katherine says it can be quite hard for others to understand what it’s like to live with COPD. Her hope is that there will be better general understanding of COPD and more support available to those living with this disease.
Annette Reece – Kawerau
Annette Reece is an active member of the Kawerau community, a well-known swim coach, an umpire for outdoor bowls, a volunteer for multiple community groups, an avid knitter for charity, and she lives with the respiratory condition COPD.
The 81-year old has lived with asthma her entire life, but was diagnosed with COPD nearly 12 years ago after experiencing an increase in breathlessness symptoms. “I found I couldn’t walk the length of the hallway, which was very frustrating for me,” she recalls.
She has found her background as a swimming coach, to be an advantage in learning to manage her condition. “When you learn to swim, you learn diaphragmatic breathing, and this breathing is also really helpful when managing breathlessness. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you definitely can. Learning breathing techniques really helps, as does knowing when and how to take medication.”
With her condition managed, Annette is able to continue with her many community commitments including volunteering at the local op shop, driving other locals to hospital appointments and calling the weekly bingo sessions. However, when she is unwell, the impact of COPD is more evident. “I had a bad flu three months ago and it took me three weeks to recover, when usually it would have been a week.”
Annette is a regular attendee at the Kawerau COPD group and says the companionship and support from this group has been very helpful in learning to live with the condition.