Faces of COPD: Paul Little - The Journey Continues
Posted on November 02, 2017 |
Paul, an active outdoorsman and former smoker, was diagnosed with COPD. Read his story to learn how a lung transplant helped him overcome this terrible disease along with exercise, exercise and oh, more exercise.
Paul and his wife Patty lived in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, for many years. An avid outdoorsman, Paul was also a smoker. “I knew smoking wasn't good for me but kept smoking anyway. It became harder and harder to climb those mountains, go deer hunting, fishing and camping. As a matter of fact, it became harder just to be active anywhere, even in the valley.”
Paul’s primary care physician prescribed inhalers. Even then he continued to smoke “dumb, oh yes”—but eventually his breathing “got so bad I had to quit. I finally went to a pulmonary doctor and was put on oxygen.”
Paul remained very active, working out and using the treadmill daily. He walked outside when the weather and pollution permitted. “I loved the outdoors and was a fanatic when it came to yard work but slowly things became harder. I had to move slower and all the things that used to be fun were now work. As we all know, COPD is normally a slow, evil disease. I steadily got worse and more oxygen was required. I was on 6 LPM and my FEV1 was down to 19%.”
For support, Paul says “like most people, we fall back on the ones closest to us, in my case my wife. Caregivers have my heart and respect. You are oh so important—you are caretaker, nurse and, most importantly, cheerleader.” He also sought out online forums that dealt with COPD and got some excellent help from COPD Support. You either give up or fight—I chose to fight.”
Tired of the cold winters, high altitude and pollution, two years ago Paul and his wife Patty moved to southern Utah where Paul “was forced to find another pulmonary doctor. As luck would have it, I found a great one. After the initial visit he asked if I had ever considered a lung transplant and, of course, the answer was no. I did some homework and decided to go for it.”
Paul’s doctor referred him to St. Joseph Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where he went through “test after test after test. That was in the summer of 2016. After all the tests and interviews they said I was a candidate and would accept me.”
Paul had to be living in Phoenix so his wife/caregiver took a leave of absence from work. “We moved to Phoenix on September 3rd and I was listed on September 6th. I got my first ‘dry run’ call on September 11th, then the real deal happened on September 30th, only 24 days after being listed.” The lung transplant was a success. Paul was off oxygen “the next day and they had me walking the halls after surgery. I spent 10 days in the hospital and was discharged to go ‘home’ to our tiny apartment close to the hospital. Then it was clinic and rehab twice a week, followed by clinic once a week and rehab still twice a week.”
Though Paul did not have any real issues with the lungs or incision, he did have some “horrible stomach/intestinal problems but they ironed those out after about three months. By month four they released me to really go home—back to southern Utah—with only a trip to Phoenix once a month for the first year.”
Paul was very happy with the lung transplant. “No more oxygen and I could breathe—I mean really breathe! I took my first little hike (1.5 miles) in the foothills of Phoenix only 75 days after surgery. This summer my wife and I hiked 6.5 miles at 10,300 feet elevation and I had no problems whatsoever. In fact, we’ve done several 5+ mile hikes this summer and I continue to improve daily. Next year, my goal is to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim, some 23 miles over four days, down one side and up the other, at the age of 70.”
If you’ve been newly diagnosed with COPD, Paul says “Don't panic! You are the same person you were the day before you were diagnosed. Nothing has changed except now you have a name for what you have. This is not a death sentence. Do not give up life. Any pace is worth living. You may have to go slower now but you can still go. And keep a positive attitude! Eat right, take your meds, stay away from sick people including kids with runny noses and exercise, exercise, exercise.”
Paul says that the “number one thing that kept me active was exercise (and no, ‘being active’ is not the same thing as exercise). Check with your doctor and get on an exercise program; it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. I recommend a real pulmonary rehab course because you learn how to exercise properly but you need to continue and you can do it on your own. Treadmill great, walking even better and it doesn’t cost a thing except the cost of a good pair of shoes. I walked every day, brisk but not too fast—this isn’t about speed, it’s about endurance. I also worked out my arms and legs/core every other day.”
Asked if he’d have a lung transplant again, Paul answers “yes, in a heartbeat! I encourage all of you to look into lung transplantation. And be sure to sign up to be an organ donor. I am so blessed. I want to thank my donor and my donor’s family. This is my triumph over COPD.”
In recognition of National 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting below.