Coping with lung disease

Most of us take the simple act of breathing for granted, but not John Ruttle.

The 70-year-old has battled with asthma since his childhood, but by the time he was 58 he could barely walk 100 metres without coughing uncontrollably and gasping for air.

He’d been complacent about his lung health, putting it down to his asthma. But when he finally saw a specialist in 2005, he was diagnosed with COPD.

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is long-term lung disease that causes obstructed airflow to the lungs. There’s no cure for COPD, but it can be managed.

“It was a bit of a shock, when I researched what COPD meant; it indicated to me it was not treatable and it could only be controlled by medication and exercise, and it more or less felt it was the end of me,” says John.

John had been a smoker for about 20 years, but gave up when he was diagnosed.

His first lung specialist gave him 18 months to live – but John refused to give up.

“I call myself a fighter. I didn’t sit back and say that’s it, I continued with life. I still carried out my hobbies, tending to my bonsais and orchards, so in other words I kept myself active,” says John.

John regularly uses a treadmill with oxygen, an exercise bike and completes weight training.

 “I think the more you can keep yourself active the better chance you’ve got to survive.”

Photo: John Ruttle 

John also uses a new, online COPD education resource called C.O.P.E, developed by Lung Foundation Australia and funded by the Bupa Health Foundation, to help manage his COPD. 

The C.O.P.E. program was developed to enable patients who do not have access to lung disease rehabilitation programs to be able to undertake the educational component of rehabilitation from the comfort of their own home.

“It’s quite useful to find out what other exercises you can do and it has a good detailed summary on how to use your spacer and medications properly,” says John.

“If you’re down in the dumps you can go back to C.O.P.E to read other people’s stories and how they’re managing and that encourages you to keep going,” he says.

John says it’s a particularly good resource for those living in regional and remote communities who might not have access to pulmonary rehabilitation programs, which usually involve 6-8 weeks of exercise and education.

“Rather than going to a hospital to attend a pulmonary rehabilitation program you can actually do the theory component from home by going through C.O.P.E.”

John is the president of the lung support group in Penrith and uses the information from C.O.P.E to provide its 39 members with useful advice to help manage their symptoms and stay out of hospital.

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