By Earl D.C. Bracamonte
If not for Comedy King Dolphy, COPD wouldn’t have a ‘face’ in this country. Because of the celebrated comedian’s demise due to the said disease, awareness efforts like the World COPD Day drumbeat the importance of knowing everything about this silent killer.
COPD, or Code 496 in medical parlance, is an acronym for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This ailment is highly prevalent in our country. Roughly, 14 to 20 per cent of our compatriots in the urban and rural areas, respectively, succumb to the disease. The condition starts when harmful gases are inhaled and damage the lung’s airways and air sacs. These harmful gases maybe in the form of cigarette smoke, bio mass fuel (such as charcoal or firewood), air pollution and occupational dust. The damages in the lungs cause symptoms of breathlessness, cough, and phlegm production. There is a critical time of exposure before the damage begins.
The onset is usually slow and progressive. Lung function has a large reserve and therefore a patient may not feel anything until 20 to 50 per cent of the lungs are damaged. The early stages of COPD are often unrecognized, in part because many individuals discount symptoms such as breathlessness, chronic cough and bringing up phlegm as a normal part of getting older or an expected consequence of cigarette smoking. A quarter to half of the people suffering from the disease doesn’t know they have it. Finding COPD early on gives the best chance to prevent further complications.
“When my dad was hospitalized in 2008, his ailment was not pinpointed as COPD. It was not identified then as Code 496. Most of the severe lung conditions then were diagnosed as emphysema. By the time he turned 80, my father was already carrying an oxygen tank, a small battery-operated contraption that was one very expensive gadget.
“The following year, the shortness of breath was more noticeable. Some family members even thought it might be his last Christmas but turned out it wasn’t. It was a challenge to keep him alive,” related Eric Quizon, the tenth child of the 18 comprising the Quizon brood.
In people at risk for Code 496, a simple painless test called spirometry, or lung function testing, can help diagnose the disease. It is never too late to undergo the procedure. The good news is, COPD is a treatable disease. It is always wise for patients to seek medical consultation(s) immediately. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological therapies are available to help patients at all stages of the disease to feel better and live a more active life.
“The doctors were able to pinpoint my dad’s condition as COPD when it was on the second stage. My father, however, did not want to make it known to the rest of the family ‘til it was at Stage 4. It was his wish not to alarm the family,” continued Eric, one of the pioneering members of the Philippine Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He was diagnosed with bronchitis at the age of 24, around the time he was doing modeling work for Collezione New York and Cinderella menswear. By 35 he stopped smoking altogether.
Pharmacological treatment includes medications that dilates the airways (brochodilators) and prevents further lung damage (anti-inflammatory drugs). These formulations, if taken religiously are effective. Non-pharmacological therapies, on the other hand, include smoking cessation or continued noxious gas exposure prevention, vaccination against flu and pneumonia, and/or pulmonary rehabilitation. The latter option is one of the most effective treatments. It involves the patient going to the pulmonary rehab center wherein they do exercises, get education, advises, as well as social support on how to cope with the disease. Most information for access to a pulmonary program can be readily obtained from a number of pertinent Web sites.
“Just be there for a loved one and brace yourselves ‘coz it’s going to be a tough ride. Emotions will be high all around,” advised Eric.
The theme of the current World COPD awareness campaign is ‘it’s never too late.’ This positive message emphasizes the meaningful actions that patients can take to improve their respiratory health, at any stage before or after a COPD diagnosis. Thus, health professionals, as well as health buffs, always iterate that it is never too late to stop smoking (cold turkey is best). It is also never too late to have a spirometry done. And for patients on the road to recovery, religiously follow the prescription of your doctor, and enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation of your choice.
“My Dad took care of us all. When he got sick, we took care of him. Now that he’s gone, we take care of ourselves,” the model-turned actor-director said at the close of our colloquy.
Dolphy is remembered for a lot of memorable works such as the MMFF best picture winner Bahay-bahayan, Kasal-kasalan, John & Marsha, Dolphy’s Angels, Tatay Kong Nanay, Tataynic, and Bata-Batuta where he shared stellar billing with Alice Smith, Eric’s mom, known by her screen name Pamela Ponti. The well-loved comedian last appeared in Father Jejemon, another movie he made for the annual MMFF a few years back.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)