Georgia Resident Encourages Others to Protect their Lung Health

November 2, 2015

Lee Roberson, 82, lives in Blairsville, Georgia and is one of the fifteen million Americans diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) each year.

This month, he’s sharing his story to incite increased awareness and understanding about COPD, ways to prevent it and how to live with the condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, most popularly emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Based on DPH data from 2013, more than 19,000 Georgians were hospitalized due to COPD and more than 4,000 deaths in the state were attributed to this condition. Data also reveals that more than 3,000 male and female smokers died due to COPD between 2008 and 2013.

CDC found that 50 percent of adults with low pulmonary function were not aware of their COPD diagnosis. Therefore, the actual number of those living with the condition may be higher.

Tobacco is cited as a leading cause of COPD, but the condition can also be caused by air pollutants, genetic factors and respiratory infections.

Roberson lived with two of key risks that contributed to his diagnosis: smoking and inhaling harsh chemicals due to his 40-year career in the construction industry before there were mandatory safety codes to protect workers lungs. He smoked in his younger life for about 15 years, but quit smoking in 1960 – almost 55 years ago.

“My doctor tells me that I now have bad lungs,” said Roberson. “I started having trouble with my lungs in 1995. I had shortness of breath and then my pulmonologist ran a test and diagnosed me with early stages of emphysema. I’m on oxygen 24/7 and I have a hose that reaches into every room in my house.”

Roberson continues to manage his COPD with pulmonary rehabilitation, physical activity and oxygen treatment which enable him to maintain his physical independence and enjoy an active life.

“I don’t use a walking cane or wheel chair at my age,” he said. “With my COPD, I exercise to keep moving my arms and legs so I can live as long as I can to enjoy my wife, children and grandchildren. I wake up every day and thank the Lord. I’m a blessed man.”

With such a strong connection to tobacco use, DPH’s Georgia Tobacco Use Prevention Program is working to help Georgians understand how to prevent COPD and other tobacco-related health conditions that have lifelong consequences. 

“Tobacco remains the state’s leading cause of preventable death,” said Kenneth Ray, MPH, deputy director of DPH’s Office of Tobacco, Policy, System and Environmental Change for the Chronic Disease Prevention Section. “We encourage Georgians to avoid using tobacco products in any form, promptly treat respiratory infections and promote the removal of air pollutants, including secondhand smoke, to help prevent the development of COPD.”

“These actions will not only benefit those living with or at risk for developing COPD or other lung conditions, but also promote a healthier Georgia for adults and children wherever they live or work,” he continued.

This month, Georgia is joining the nation in observing National COPD Awareness Month. To learn more about the condition or get involved in your community, visit the Georgia chapter of the American Lung Association online.

If you are a tobacco user and ready to live a healthier life, DPH offers the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867) as a free resource. The phone-based service is available to all Georgians age 13 or older and provides access to one-on-one counseling, nicotine replacement therapy and other support services. Visit www.dph.georgia.gov/GTQL to learn more. 

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