Chris Leaman’s COPD diagnosis came as a bit of a surprise. But he was becoming increasingly short of breath while working in construction and roofing.
When he signed up to participate in a clinical study that involved a once-a-week breathing test, he was immediately disqualified on the basis that “his lung function is too far gone”. Here are some of the hard-won insights that Chris has picked up as he deals with lung disease.
1. Shortness of breath does not fall into the same category as wrinkles.
Despite his history of smoking, Chris thought his breathlessness was just part and parcel of getting older. He was wrong. By the time he was diagnosed with COPD, as often happens, the disease was already quite severe. In a cruel twist, his breathing deteriorated dramatically as soon as he started work in construction.
2. There’s no place like hope.
When a lung transplant became one of the possible treatment options, Chris made the difficult decision to move from his hometown of Kingston to his daughter Chelsea’s apartment in Toronto. It just made sense to live closer to his specialists, to Toronto Western Hospital’s rehabilitation program, and most importantly to Toronto General Hospital’s Lung Transplant Clinic where he felt he could be “heard and seen” by his medical doctors.
3. Learn to roll with the punches.
Chris would have been on the lung transplant list a lot sooner (he eventually did), but he developed another lung disease – Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC). MAC is an opportunistic infection that takes advantage of a weakened immune system. To make things even worse, he was affected by tuberculosis (TB) and suffered two heart attacks, further complicating his chances to get on the lung transplant list.
4. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
While the avid athlete can no longer play sports himself, Chris derives a great deal of satisfaction from watching hockey, basketball, volleyball, and football. Between helping his daughter, walking the dog, going to the rehabilitation program three days a week, and attending various doctor’s appointments, Chris refuses to just sit on the sidelines.
5. Make a difference with every breath.
Chris feels a keen sense of responsibility to advise people to better understand COPD and related risks of smoking. Which is why he helped found the Lung Issues Support Toronto Western Hospital so everyone could share their experiences and support each other with advice and compassion. He also attends the COPD support group put on by the Lung Health Foundation, which offers people a way to share their experiences and hear from others, allowing them not to feel alone in their journey. As a Lung Health Ambassador team member, Chris wanted to get involved with advocacy right away, signing petitions for Bill 41, the Lung Health Act.