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Prescription for COPD Includes Support

​​​​​Two days a week, Judy Minaudo, 72, St. Germain, goes to pulmonary rehab at 6:45 a.m. The sessions have become her way of connecting with patients like herself, who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Participating in pulmonary rehab has been part of Minaudo’s routine since 1999.

Judy Minaudo, St. Germain Judy Minaudo, St. Germain

Minaudo believes in taking advantage of any available support to help manage her COPD. This includes taking her medication, accepting the help of her husband, Andy, using oxygen and faithfully going to pulmonary rehab. “The rehab sessions and the staff there are what keep me going. They help keep me out of the hospital,” said Minaudo. “If I miss a day or two of rehab, I really feel like I’ve blown it.” Her advice: always push for pulmonary rehab.

COPD is caused by conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma. Airways in the lungs are narrowed, making breathing more difficult. The condition may include flare-ups triggered by respiratory infections or exposure to second-hand smoke or other fumes. Although not curable, COPD symptoms can be managed.

Minaudo was diagnosed in 1991 with COPD, a diagnosis that caught her by surprise. Despite 40 years of smoking, the condition behaved more like asthma. “You are warned about the effects of smoking, but you think that nothing bad will happen to you,” she said. “I started at 16 and when I was short of breath, I didn’t think it was anything.”

Minaudo’s doctor, Pulmonary Medicine Physician John Crump, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center, refers to COPD as a threshold phenomenon. “Patients are often taken by surprise when diagnosed with COPD. They sometimes smoke and can go for many years with few or no symptoms,” he said. “Fifty percent of lung capacity can be lost before symptoms become noticeable. When they cross that threshold they fairly suddenly notice the shortness of breath with daily activities.”

Minaudo uses her time in pulmonary rehab to help more than just her. “I like to ask the other patients if they want to talk,” she said. “Sometimes people think they are the only person suffering from certain symptoms of this disease. It is nice for them to talk with others who have had the same problems.”

She staunchly supports using oxygen if it is recommended by your doctor. “Don’t be afraid of using it,” Minaudo said. “If a man won’t wear oxygen it is because of ego. If a woman won’t wear oxygen, it’s because she’s afraid of what her man thinks. Use it. It really helps.”

What is working for Minaudo is that she has not exacerbated her COPD symptoms. She has a collaborative relationship with her husband and her doctor. “Judy and Andy know when and how to take action to head off flare-ups,” said Dr. Crump. “We talk about what we’re going to do and have some give and take. Our collaboration, her willingness to follow recommendations and participate in pulmonary rehab, make for a combination that keeps her in optimal health.”

COPD may not be curable, but it doesn’t need to be insufferable. “Providers can have a big impact by helping people quit smoking earlier, optimizing their medications and referring them to pulmonary rehab to learn about their disease and be connected with other patients with the condition,” said Dr. Crump. “Pulmonary rehab has made a great difference for patients like Judy.”​​