COPD awareness advocate and great grandmother who prides herself on spreading the word about lung health through her vast orange and inspirational wardrobe!
Age at Treatment: 58
Hospital: Christus St. Michael Hospital
Date of Procedure: January 2023
Life Before Zephyr® Valves:
I started smoking when I was 14 years old — back then it was the cool thing to do. There was even a room provided for students who smoked at my school. All you needed was a signed note from your parents that said you could “take smoke breaks!” It’s hard to imagine nowadays how that was ever allowed. Although I typically only smoked one pack a day, I was diagnosed with early-stage emphysema when I was only 20 years old. Believe it or not, I worked as a heavy machinery operator for road construction here in Texas for decades. In fact, that is how I met my husband! Between my smoking and inhaling all the dust and chemicals on a daily basis, my lung health declined quickly.
In 2006, I got really sick, and my dad had to take me to the emergency room at the small hospital in our hometown. I was told I had a lot of CO2 built up in my lungs that was causing me to feel sick and prevent me from breathing. The doctor that I saw that day — who is now my PCP — told me I had to quit smoking, especially if I wanted to keep working. I didn’t listen, though. I kept smoking and kept working.
Thankfully, I have family that live nearby, because in 2017 I had another rushed trip to the emergency room. This time, my sister took me and I had a chest X-ray. They told me that it was crucial that I quit smoking and go see a pulmonologist to get my emphysema managed by a specialist. I was put on a daily inhaler and 2 liters of oxygen 24/7. This was one of the biggest life changes for me. I have always been an active person and on the move but seeing this as my life now really hurt my pride.
I am blessed not only to be a parent of six children and a grandparent to 13, but I am also a great grandparent to two beautiful girls. My parents are also still alive, making them both great GREAT grandparents! After that last trip to the ER, I tried everything to quit smoking — including getting hypnotized. There was a period of time that I had temporary custody of four of my grandchildren. One day, after I got the two older girls on the bus and off to school and the two younger boys fed and down for a nap, I stepped out to have a cigarette. I got through half of it and began to feel very short of breath again. At that moment, I looked up to the sky and said, “God, please give me the strength to quit. I just can’t live like this anymore.” It was at that moment I put that half of a cigarette down and haven’t picked one up since.
Life After Zephyr Valves:
After each appointment with my pulmonologist, I became more and more anxious to find something that might make me feel better. My daughter suggested I look into getting on a transplant list, but I didn’t feel comfortable having someone else’s lung inside me. It wasn’t the one God gave me, so I looked for something else.
I was online one day and came across a man’s story who was a part of the Zephyr Valve clinical trial in Louisville. He spoke so positively about the procedure that I asked my pulmonologist about it. He thought I might be a good candidate for Zephyr Valves, but referred me to Dr. Gregory White, at Christus St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, TX — a pulmonologist who performs the procedure.
The Zephyr Valve sounded like the best option for me because it wasn’t a surgery, it wasn’t another inhaler, and most importantly it wasn’t a transplant. After I went through all the testing, I learned I was a really good candidate, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be until I woke up that I would know if I actually got the valves. Thankfully, when I woke up, I found out I got four valves, and I didn’t have any complications.
I have always been an advocate for COPD awareness, and I am very active in the Facebook group “Lung Valves for Friends.” I feel like God made it my mission to help others, especially those suffering from breathlessness, so I try to share my story as much as I can with others in the group and people in my community. I even have a COPD wardrobe — filled with shirts, shoes, and accessories decked out in orange ribbons and encouraging sayings.
My daughter bought me a Fitbit® that has really fueled my competitive side! I track all my steps and how many flights of stairs I walk each day. Some days I get up to 5 miles in steps! My husband and I always used to walk around this giant flea market near us and go to garage sales during the weekend but after my breathing took a dive, those excursions became less and less. Now that I am feeling so much better, it’s my goal to make it back to the sales this summer!
Results may vary.
Complications of the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve treatment can include but are not limited to pneumothorax, worsening of COPD symptoms, hemoptysis, pneumonia, dyspnea and, in rare cases, death.