I was terrified. My doctor said that at best I had three to five years to live, DeNardo says. Incurable thats all I could think of. Except, I couldnt die. I was a single mother of two, I had a mother in her 90s who needed me, and a small insurance business that had just turned the corner and was making money. I simply could not be sick, and I could not die.
Today, DeNardo is one of 35 associates who work on the COPD Foundations C.O.P.D. Information Line. When it was created in 2007, they averaged 300 inbound calls every month. Today, the associates field anywhere between 5,000-6,000 contacts each month. DeNardo was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Information Line.
Today, patients are still scared. You can hear that when they call the Info Line. The best thing is when I get a call from a newly diagnosed patient, because I can tell them Ive had the diagnosis for 15 years, and you can hear the relief in their voices, she says. The Information Line, to me, is the culmination of everything I believed in.
In 2007, she met with Bill Clark, director of outreach programs at the COPD Foundation, and John and Diane Walsh, and together, they recruited patients, set up the toll-free line for support and information, and the Information Line was born.
Since her diagnosis, DeNardo has become a passionate advocate for COPD. In 2001 she was invited to do a speaking engagement, which turned out to be in front of Congress, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is now co-chair of the COPD Congressional Caucus.
In the beginning, people would tell me they had COPD, and that they had not told their spouse yet. Today, its a better-known disease. There are resources now many of which are on the COPD Foundation website, DeNardo says. Doctors are giving out our phone number now. The Foundation has become our safe place our place for information. In that way, everyones amazed at whats happened in the past 10 years.
The Foundation addresses peoples fears and encourages them to go out and enjoy themselves while wearing oxygen. Research is moving alongevery single avenue the Foundation has done it all, DeNardo says. DeNardo calls her fellow associates heroes and says they are incredible people.
You never know whats going to happen when you pick up that phone, but they always handle it superbly. I would love to applaud them because I think they are amazing people, she says. I remember when I first met John Walsh and he told me he was going to start the COPD Foundation, and said he wished more patients would speak out. Hes achieved beyond thatand has encouraged people to get out there and talk. There are 15 million people living with this disease in the U.S. 15 millionthats enough people.
Just imagine how powerful it would be if each one of those patients spoke out and volunteered in some way. We would win this fight, she says. If patients are interested in how they can help, they should call the Information Linewe are there to guide them.
DeNardo says she can see a future that holds a cure for COPD. She says she can see more research happening, and more people who want to become involved in the cause.
"The Foundation will continue to grow, and I believe it [a cure] will happen. And I hope to be there. I'm working hard to be there," DeNardo says.