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One of the best things that happened to me – going to rehab!

Media Statement
The Asthma Foundation

18 November 2013

World COPD Day is November 20

One of the best things that ever happened to me – going to rehab!

Jeannie Sullivan started smoking when she was 21. She started with a packet lasting a fortnight and slowly moved onto a packet a day by her late 30s. Jeannie is proud to say she finally stopped smoking about 10 years ago.

Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Jeannie thought she had asthma so went to her GP and was told she had emphysema or COPD.

It took a while for the penny to drop that Jeannie was in serious trouble. She didn’t give up smoking straight away; as with many people who try to stop smoking it took several attempts. Now she doesn’t have the breath to smoke.

“Back when I started smoking I had no idea this was going to happen to me or I wouldn’t have done it. Now everyone thinks it is your own fault which makes it quite hard as 50 years ago I honestly didn’t know the damage that smoking was doing” said Jeannie.

Most people don’t realize how limiting COPD is. It takes Jeannie about two hours to vacuum her two bedroom house. Also, if anybody is going anywhere like to the zoo with the grandchildren or for a walk down the waterfront, she has to stay home as it takes too long for her to get around.

Jeannie says one of the best things that ever happened to her was going to rehab. She looked forward to the twice a week classes and socializing, getting fit, and learning about how to manage COPD. “I thought everyone would be staring at me and it’s not the case at all. There were others who had walkers, crutches and people at different stages to what we are going through and everyone was doing their best.”

Jeannie’s health has been so much better. She has a nebulizer at home and since going to rehab she hasn’t used it. “I still get breathless however I can control it now without going straight to a puffer or a nebulizer. It took away a lot of the negativity – that I couldn’t go out here and there - now I think ‘yes I can do this’ whereas before I used to think ‘no I can’t do that’,’ said Jeannie.

Last year Jeannie was in hospital twice for a total of three weeks however this year she hasn’t been in once, something she is feeling very good about. She also hasn’t been to the doctor for a chest infection this year; last year Jeannie had five chest infections.

“Last week was my 73rd birthday – this time last year I was really on a downer due to my COPD. I am pleased to say that due to pulmonary rehab I am no longer that person,” said Jeannie.

“I have learnt that COPD is something that I have to live with, it will get worse – the damage that is done can’t be undone.” Controlling her breathing as naturally as possibly has taught Jeannie not to panic and let things stress her the way she used to.

“In my young days if I had been able to look into the future it would be the last cigarette I touch. When I see young people smoking I think I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

COPD facts and figures:
• More than 85 percent of the burden of COPD arises from tobacco smoking, with contributions from cannabis use and dust exposure in the workplace.
• COPD is the fourth leading cause of death after cancer, heart disease and stroke.
• COPD is an irreversible disease but is almost entirely preventable by avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke. Over 15 percent of all smokers are likely to become affected.
• COPD Is estimated to cost up to $192 million in direct health care costs each year.
• In 2011 COPD was responsible for an estimated 12,000 hospital admissions and over 50,000 bed days.
• COPD accounts for about 200,000 GP visits and more than 453,300 prescribed medications.
• COPD afflicts over 50 million people worldwide and causes nearly 3 million deaths every year
• Deaths from COPD are projected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next 10 years
The Burden of COPD in New Zealand summary report:
About the Asthma Foundation

The Asthma Foundation is New Zealand’s sector authority on asthma, COPD and other respiratory illnesses.

We advocate to government and raise awareness of respiratory illnesses, fund research for better treatments and educate on best practice. We provide resources on our website and support our affiliated asthma societies and trusts in providing education, support and advice.

For more information, visit the Asthma Foundation’s website at or go to

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