One man on life with lung disease: It's like trying to breathe through a 'straw' while 'walking up stairs'

·2 min read

Wendell Betts developed pneumonia in both of his lungs when he was 14 years old—and it ended up completely changing his health.

“It was very scary for my parents because I was on the verge of not making it,” Betts tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Ever since then, I’ve had scar tissue in my lungs.”

That contributed to his diagnosis seven years ago of “very severe” chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic condition that causes the airways in your lungs to become inflamed and thicken. People with COPD often experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, a chronic cough, fatigue, and wheezing, according to the American Lung Association.

“Next time you’re in a coffee shop, take that straw, put it in your mouth, plug your nostrils and try walking up stairs,” Betts says. “That’s what a COPD patient goes through every breath.”

COPD is serious and can’t be reversed. Betts was hospitalized at one point and was told he would only be able to be released if he had a “huge” oxygen tank in his bedroom.

“Once you go on oxygen, statistics will show that you basically have six to nine months to live,” he says. “The only thing [doctors] could do would be to keep me comfortable.” But Betts says he wasn’t okay with that. “In my mind, I said you do not have the power or authority to tell me how long I have to live or when I’m going to die,” he says. “I do not believe that my days or my purpose have been fulfilled and I’m going to fight.”

Not long after his diagnosis, Betts and his wife met a gym owner and nutritionist, who he says changed his life. “Through smart lifestyle changes and choosing good nutritional foods, I have been able to rid myself of 138 pounds of unneeded body weight,” Betts says. “It’s been instrumental in helping me breathe.”

Betts also started working out regularly. “I started going to the gym every day. Sometimes I’d go twice a day,” he says.

He eventually decided to raise awareness of COPD by walking 310 miles, from one end of his providence in Canada to the other — a huge feat given that he could barely walk without getting out of breath when he was first diagnosed with COPD.

Betts says he hopes to inspire other people with COPD to fight the disease as well, and has been doing so through the foundation he started, the COPD Warrior Foundation. “I have been so blessed,” he says. “On the other side of every obstacle is your next victory.”

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