November 2, 2010

Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner enters a new race – to find the millions of people at risk for COPD

Posted: 11:23 AM ET

Bruce Jenner broke Olympic records and earned America a gold medal for decathlon in 1976. Here, he shares his family’s personal battle with a debilitating disease that affects millions across the country.

As an athlete, my health has always been important to me. My wife Kris and I enjoy keeping an active lifestyle, so it’s hard to imagine what it would be like if breathing problems kept me from participating in the activities I love to do. But that’s exactly what happens to many people who develop COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

COPD includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. Over time, it makes it harder and harder to breathe because less air is able to flow in and out of the lungs. Unfortunately, many people mistake its symptoms for normal signs of aging, so they wait to see their doctor. But because COPD is a progressive disease, it becomes worse over time, causing more damage to the lungs.

You might be surprised to learn that COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in America, killing more people each year than breast cancer and diabetes combined. An estimated 24 million Americans have impaired lung function, but half of them don’t know it.

In fact, I didn’t know much about it either until I learned that Kris’s grandparents both had the disease. COPD took a huge toll on their lives, and it was difficult for us as well. It’s scary not being able to get enough oxygen to breathe easily. Even when we talked with them on the phone, we could hear them gasping for air.

The worst part was learning that if they had been diagnosed earlier, they may have been able to work with their doctor to better manage the disease and get more out of life. I don’t want other people to have to go through what my family did. That’s why I’m raising awareness about this disease through the DRIVE4COPD campaign.

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Filed under: Bruce Jenner • LKL Web Exclusive

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