Do you know the fourth leading cause of death worldwide? Not many people do. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease affects millions of people, yet still remains relatively unknown1 despite how many lives it changes.
One of those lives was that of Russell Winwood – a 49-year-old Australian who was diagnosed with COPD in 2011 and has since become an inspiration for other patients thanks to his determination and passion for sports, despite his condition. Together with Russell we’re taking a closer look at his story, the impact of COPD and how raising awareness can help millions of undiagnosed cases.
Prior to his diagnosis, Russell Winwood lived a pretty typical, carefree life. Although he had suffered with chronic asthma since an early age he didn’t pay much mind to his health, until suffering a stroke at age 36 which made him consider a different lifestyle. He decided to turn things around and focused on his fitness levels, eventually finding a passion for exercise and athletics.
Over the next eight years he would compete in triathlons, marathons and a half Iron Man before noticing that his endurance levels were decreasing and he was frequently short of breath. After undergoing several tests it was determined that he had severe COPD, which according to the Lung Institute could reduce lung capacity to less than 30%2.
As one of the millions unaware of their condition, Russell clearly remembers the moment he was told:
“I first heard of COPD when I was diagnosed, and I was devastated. I wish I understood that this wasn’t a death sentence, and it doesn’t mean you have to give up the things you love. With the support of my wife and family, I vowed that I wouldn’t allow this disease to take control of my life.”
Just six months later, Russell completed his first full Iron Man triathlon, showing the world that COPD is not the end of the road. Unsurprisingly, lifestyle choices and changes in diet had a lot to do with it. Known as his ‘four pillars’, Russell’s advice includes increasing personal knowledge about the condition, seeking the proper medication, having a healthy diet and exercising to help cardio-respiratory fitness levels.
“Whether you have asthma or COPD managing your condition can be difficult but it can be done. Take your medications and exercise as much as you can, eat a healthy diet and keep the weight down. Set yourself a goal to help keep you on track and always remember no matter how tough it gets there’s always someone doing it tougher than you. Put simply, the body will do what the mind tells it to!!”
For those diagnosed with COPD, the mental implications are also strong with patients who feel disconnected from normal life. For Russell, his passion for athletics was what got him through it all - a notion strongly supported by his physician, Dr. Kelly.
“Patients can realise that it is not an immediate death sentence. You know, some people envision themselves in a wheelchair on oxygen. That’s a journey not every patient with COPD has to make. I think it's important to encourage people and say, "Look, this is what you've got. You have to, you know, adapt to it. It doesn't have to -there are some parts you have to adapt to it, it's got to adapt to you. But, you've got to get on and do the things that are important”.
Awareness is a global issue
210 million people3 are estimated to have COPD worldwide – a condition that encompasses the progression of lung diseases including emphysema, refractory asthma, chronic bronchitis and other illnesses. Commonly mistaken as the disease for elderly people, it affects a large proportion of those who are still of working age – having an impact on individuals, their families and health services.
The danger of COPD is that it is chronically underdiagnosed; in fact, only half of those with the condition have been officially diagnosed4 with symptoms ranging from breathlessness and coughing through to wheezing and tightness in the chest, patients often assume it’s down to something else and therefore do nothing, or pursue incorrect treatment.
For Russell, awareness is key. “I think it's a big thing about getting diagnosed early and people realizing that their symptoms are getting worse. It doesn't really cost a lot of money to go to a doctor and do some investigations.”
Supporting World COPD
Organised by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), the first World COPD Day was held in 2002. Each year, since then, organisations from more than 50 countries take part and carry out their own activities to engage target audiences and spread the message.
For Philips, World COPD Day is a chance to take part in raising awareness and help patients spot the signs earlier for better treatment, with this year being the third time. In 2015, the stage was set with the Breathless Choir and in 2016, Philips asked the world to tweet with #BreatheBoldly through a straw to show empathy for those living with COPD. This year, Philips focused on Russell and his powerful story. For every share of Russell’s video stories, Philips pledged to donate $1 to further globalize the COPD Foundation’s 360 SOCIAL Community, up to $25,000.
If you’d like to find out more on Russell’s story and how you could help spread the message in support of COPD awareness, please visit our World COPD page.
1 Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. 2017. Retrieved from http://goldcopd.org/download/326/
2 The Lung Institute. 2017. Retrieved from: https://lunginstitute.com/blog/lung-capacity-what-does-it-mean/
3 COPD Foundation, COPD Uncovered Report. 2011. Retrieved from:https://www.copdfoundation.org/pdfs/copd-uncovered-report-2011.pdf
4 COPD Foundation, COPD Uncovered Report.2011. Retrieved from:https://www.copdfoundation.org/pdfs/copd-uncovered-report-2011.pdf