Just Breathe! COPD—A common and often overlooked disease

A few statistics:

  • 210 Million people worldwide have COPD
  • 12 Million Americans have COPD; Possibly another 12 million that are not diagnosed
  • 15% of all people who are diagnosed with COPD have never smoked
  • Nearly 80 percent of the diagnosed women never smoked
  • 5% of the residence in NC are effected by COPD



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow. Most cases occur in individuals over 40, who have smoked tobacco or experienced second-hand smoke. Chemicals and dust found in numerous work environments can be factors. Genetics can also play a role. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing and formation of mucus. Sadly, most people are not diagnosed properly and do not know they have COPD. They can loose up to 50% of their lung function before diagnosis.


A simple test

A spirometry is a simple test that is used to diagnose COPD. Patients blow all the air out of their lungs into a machine. The machine calculates the amount of air blown in the first second, and the amount of air blown in 6 seconds. The results indicate the grade of the severity but do not determine life expectancy, or the quality of life. Research shows that physicians are more likely to give a diagnosis to male patients. Women are less likely to even be offered the test.


It is imperative to take the test, in order to identify the grade:

Grade 1 – Airflow limitation but unlikely known

Grade 2 – Airflow limitation worsens, a persistent cough, an increased production of mucus, and                          a shortness of breath

Grade 3 – Worsening of symptoms; greater fatigue and chest discomfort

Grade 4 – Quality of life is impaired with symptoms being life-threatening


Life seems “normal”

COPD is an elusive, debilitating, terminal affliction with limited practical information. Vague descriptions of the grades and misleading television commercials portray a half truth. Delineation is minimal in the initial grades. Onset COPD can go undetected. Life seems “normal.” People appear healthy, but constriction is occurring.


What is not shared, is how COPD slowly impairs breathing and robs independence as it progresses. Terminal takes on a whole new meaning. You can process terminal yet emotionally and spiritually it is a difficult journey. Grade 1 through 3 are little steps but then Grade 4…


COPD Grade 4

Lack of oxygen begins to effect communication, decision making, memory and moods. Choking, labored breathing, or a puffing out of air exists. Exhalation is impaired. Mobility is reduced, sleep increases, and prescribed oxygen is at a maximum. Independence erodes to a level where self care is almost impossible. The lack of oxygen impacts all areas of daily living and gives way to frustration, fear and despair.


Grade 4 is clouded by the unknown and the unspoken for all involved. The quantified results of the daily oxygen readings (80s), while increased oxygen use offers little to no help. Panic is manifested due to severe coughing and choking. The body is breaking down. The unknown end to the unknown. How will it end?

Emotions underscored by “when” and “how much worse can it get”… different in every case yet an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved.

DISCLOSURE – I am not a health care professional merely a daughter, and co-care giver. My mother and I are blessed to have a friend share her experiences. It is my hope that this is of some help. COPD is a bitter road. You cannot do this alone; you are not alone! Seek support.




Katie Stankiewicz has always had a passion for horses and a deep desire to see people succeed. She founded Willow Equine, in 2012, which offers equine-assisted personal development in Mooresville, NC. Her mission is to enlighten clients to their innate abilities. Whether it’s taking the lead in their own health or focusing on work at their company, they re-energize themselves through self-discovery and horses. They are able to transform their struggles into authentic successes, and it becomes a part of their overall wellness plan and life-coping strategies. To make a donation, please visit http://horsesheal.com/donate/.




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