Marshall Swanson became a COPD advocate to help give a voice to the 24 million Americans living with the disease.
Through his advocacy work on the C.O.P.D. Information Line and other venues of the COPD Foundation, Swanson has taken his voice all the way to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to spread awareness and education about COPD, using his own experience as an example.
My heart is in it, and thats what motivates me, he says. I want to get the information out to help others who have it and help educate them.
Swanson, 73, says he began smoking at the age of 15, and quit after he had a heart attack in 1998.
A?er I got out of the hospital, thats when I decided things were serious and I quit smoking. I noticed that I had a lot of phlegm and trouble breathing, and I went back to the hospital and was told I had COPD, he says.
He says that since that moment, it has been a battle for him.
I wish I had known about it years earlier.
The longer you wait [to be diagnosed] the worse it gets for maintaining it.
Aftr he was diagnosed, Swanson says he had to make some changes.
make some changes. I was quite a bit overweight, which wasnt helping my lungs at allthere was no room for them to move. Finally I went on a diet and lost 30 pounds, and I have more to lose, but Im going to do it, he says. I also started pulmonary rehab, been doing it for two years now, and it made me get off my duff and start walking. Now, I can walk more than a block without losing breath. It got me in shape exercise is the most important thing when it comes to maintaining your health.
During a visit to his pulmonologists office, Swanson saw a copy of COPD Digest. He picked it up and thumbed through it, eventually calling the C.O.P.D. Information Lines numberwhich spurred his advocacy work for COPD.
One thing Ive found out about COPD and my experiences is that a lot of people I talk to dont know what COPD is. I am working to change that. I want everyone to be aware of it. It has to get exposurewhich is my goalto get the word out to people any way I can do it, he says.
In March of this year, Swanson participated in the Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill that the COPD Foundation held in conjunction with the American Association for Respiratory Care, Alpha-1 Association, Alpha-1 Foundation and Pulmonary Hypertension Association.
With over 400 meetings scheduled on the Hill, advocates asked members of Congress to co-sponsor HR 941the Medicare Respiratory Therapy Initiative Act of 2011, a bill aimed at increasing access to respiratory therapists. In addition, advocates asked Congressional members to support the National Institutes of Health funding for COPD research, and to become members of the Congressional COPD Caucus.
Swanson had the opportunity to meet with his Congressman, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), during this Advocacy Day. He shared his personal story of COPD and explained why HR 941 is important.
It was the most rewarding experience. I met a lot of people and we all had the same goalto get COPD in check, he says. Fortunately, when I went back to Wisconsin, my Congressman was there for a Town Hall meeting, and I got to speak to him again. He told me he has asthma, so he took an interest in this topic. I cant express how I felt about thisIm elated that I was able to do my job.
Swanson says that during his time as an Associate on the C.O.P.D. Information Line, he has worked with people who struggle with trying to help their spouses, partners, families or caregivers understand the disease.
My wife [Paula] understands the disease more now than she ever did because Ive become so deeply involved, he says. Thats what couples need to doget involved and educate themselves and each other, so that there is an understanding of COPD.