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Faces of COPD: Kandy Blankartz says, "We are people too…we just move a little slower."

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Kandy’s breathing issues started when she was just a child. It took many years for doctors to diagnose her with COPD. That’s why she became an advocate. Read on to learn more.

As a young child with severe asthma, Kandy remembers many trips to the hospital with an oxygen tank in the back seat. Doctors told her parents she wouldn’t live past the age of 10. “The asthma gene is strong in my family, going back to my great-grandfather.”

Kandy Blankartz for COPD awareness Throughout her lifetime, Kandy suffered many critical health issues but she got through them. From the 1960s through the 1990s, she started having bouts of chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. In the early 1990s, she saw an allergist and pulmonologist; they both gave her 10 years.

As Kandy aged, her asthma worsened and “overlapped into COPD”; she was officially diagnosed with COPD at the age of 46. In 1997, Kandy got very sick and “was told by my doctor to get my affairs in order and sent home with oxygen. I’ve often wondered how many years my COPD went undiagnosed because doctors thought it was asthma. My father had emphysema too, which overlapped with his asthma.”

During this time Kandy was working for the state of South Dakota. When she moved, she “started doing respite care which I had to give up due to my lungs getting worse. I lost a relationship due to my COPD…it’s so hard for people to understand this progressive illness.”

Kandy Blankartz for COPD awareness Kandy started advocating in 2004, “writing articles for our local newspaper and surrounding papers. I was already writing to our South Dakota Governor asking him to make November COPD Awareness Month in our state.”

Her advocacy efforts have not gone unnoticed, having received “nine proclamations since 2004. In 2013, someone asked me if the COPD Foundation knew what I was doing and that I should get a hold of them.” This resulted in Kandy becoming the COPD State Captain for South Dakota.

Each year, Kandy does “a couple of events in my town to get the word out about COPD and lung diseases. I hand out and post information in local stores, our clinic and hospital. I continue to write articles for our area newspapers and am part of many social support groups. I have a demo on our local radio station that’s played throughout the month of November and this year I’ll also have a booth at our hospital’s annual bazaar.”

Social activity has not been the best due to her COPD. “Being short of breath and having to be careful not to catch any germs makes it harder to be out in public.”

Kandy Blankartz for COPD awareness Kandy believes she has good healthcare but “I had to drive 100 miles one way to see my pulmonologist and get my specialty treatment. Thankfully, I was able to get the right treatment.”

In 2012, Kandy asked for a referral to attend pulmonary rehab. Until that time “no doctor offered that as an option. After 36 sessions paid by Medicare I pay each month for maintenance. I am still going but some days it’s a big challenge.”

Luckily, Kandy has “not had to deal with too much anxiety or depression. Back in the day, two doctors told me I was unique…not sure if that was good or bad, but a positive attitude is a must!”

Kandy’s support system is her family. “My daughters are always there when I need help but I hate asking. I’m stubborn, but will ask for help when I need it.”

People affected by COPD face many challenges including “simple activities in your daily life such as bathing and cleaning. Steps and hills are a challenge for most of us. Being able to leave the house with portable oxygen and managing those when they are very heavy. Some people don’t leave the house because it’s just too much of a burden.”

If you have a family member or friend with COPD, Kandy says it’s important for you to “understand what COPD is and how hard it is for us with COPD. Learn what we have to go through each day just trying to breathe. Have patience and understanding when we can’t always go to functions and activities. We are people too…we just move a little slower.”

If you are newly diagnosed with COPD, Kandy says you should “learn all you can about COPD and how to manage and maintain it. Pulmonary rehab exercise is the best thing you can do—it’s good for your body and your mind. Eat a healthy diet, take good meds, find a good lung doctor, get your shots and try to stay away from sick people. And, if you’re a smoker, quit; it’s very important for your lungs.”

What helped Kandy better learn to live with her COPD was that she had been dealing with breathing issues her entire life due to the asthma. But that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. “I’ve gone through a lot over time. I received many end of life predictions from doctors. I have beat them and I am still here fighting.”

In recognition of COPD Awareness Month, the COPD Foundation is featuring a new "Faces of COPD" profile every day in November. The "A New Day, A New Face of COPD" blog series will highlight the stories of those who have been touched by COPD in any capacity. Tell your story by e-mailing us at info@copdfoundation.org or commenting below.

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