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Life with COPD: Joe Lodge's New Normal

In 2009-2010, 772,200 Canadians over 35 were diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, a chronic and progressive condition characterized by gradual airway obstruction, shortness of breath, cough, and sputum production.
Joe Lodge

In 2009-2010, 772,200 Canadians over 35 were diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, a chronic and progressive condition characterized by gradual airway obstruction, shortness of breath, cough, and sputum production. This disease can significantly limit mobility, restrict daily activities and impact mental health. When avid outdoorsman Joe Lodge was diagnosed with COPD years ago, it was like getting a death sentence. Almost two decades later, with the help of medication, a change in mindset and some coping strategies, Lodge is still leading a full life. “When I was diagnosed in 2000, I was only 45 years old. I was working and raising my children. I was always healthy and I had spent a lot of time outdoors rock climbing and water skiing. My breathing had been deteriorating for some time but I attributed this to smoking." After a few weeks in the hospital suffering from pneumonia, Lodge was diagnosed with severe emphysema caused by genetic Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. "My lung function was only the equivalent of about 36% of a normal person my age." The diagnosis had a profound effect, he says. “I panicked about how long I would live and how my youngest daughter would manage if I died. But slowly, I came to terms with it and I was determined to find out as much as possible about COPD.”

Four years and one divorce later, now a single father, Lodge had to make some big changes in his life if he was going to be able to continue working and raising his daughter. “I was lucky to have a desk job so I could still manage work while my daughter was at school. It was home life that was the biggest challenge. When I was diagnosed with COPD, I thought I would have to give up doing everything right away. But that wasn't true. What I had to do was review everything that I was doing and find new ways to do things or new things to do.”

Lodge says that as a COPD sufferer, exertion causes breathlessness which makes doing household chores (and raising kids) much more difficult to do. “The basic daily activities that most people take for granted take me so much longer to do. It requires focus to get through each day with some prioritizing. Over the years, my daughter had to experience all of my good and bad symptoms, spend time home alone when I had to be hospitalized, and sometimes manage the house. And although she grew up with my COPD, it was only in her teen years when she found it sometimes difficult, mentally rather than physically.”

Over the years, Lodge realized that a change in mindset and coping strategies could make dramatic changes in sufferers' lives. He decided to write a book to share his experience of COPD with other sufferers. His book is about the small changes COPD sufferers can make to their mindset and the way they go about everyday life. Like the butterfly effect, a small change in mindset can effect a large change in quality of life. "My book follows my diagnosis and changes in mindset, and is designed as a tool to help sufferers review and analyze what they do now and to consider new ways to manage their COPD. It can be very difficult just to get motivated to do anything with COPD and my book acts as a guide to help instill and inspire a new way of thinking and doing.” Once, Lodge enjoyed rock climbing and water skiing; he now practices Tai Chi on a daily basis and teaches a weekly class. “I'm also trying to get fitter and stronger by summer so I can attempt maybe a rock climb again or do some more canoeing, in a simple COPD way." Lodge's biggest challenge is to avoid pneumonia. “Pneumonia is my biggest nemesis because it takes me down a notch every time we meet and I'm rapidly running out of notches!” Lodge's current lung function is about one quarter of a healthy person's. Now that he is a few years away from retirement, Lodge's future plans include volunteer work, Tai Chi and just enjoying each day as it comes.



Who Says I Can't? A Guide to Living Well with COPD, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 216 pages, sells for $19.99 on Amazon.com.