Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Read the story of Lynn Ashton, who was diagnosed with COPD after she noticed her breathing was getting worse.

Lynn Ashton was having a happy Christmas dinner until a candle set her plastic tablecloth alight.

"We were taking a break after the main course when one of my children said she could smell something funny," says Lynn.

"I rushed into the dining room to find the plastic tablecloth and the dining room in flames. I threw the tablecloth on to the patio, but by then I had inhaled a lot of toxic fumes."

She sat outside trying to get her breath. Initially, she didn't go to the doctor. But over the next few weeks, her breathing got worse. She was already an asthmatic and smoked around 15 to 20 cigarettes a day.

"I spent the next four months in and out of hospital with chest infections," says Lynn. "At times, my breathing was so bad I could barely bend down to tie my shoelaces."

Lynn was diagnosed with COPD and bronchiectasis, an abnormal widening of the air sacs in the lungs. It was a shattering blow, and she stopped smoking immediately. 

But Lynn was determined to stay strong. Her daughter was pregnant with her first grandchild.

"My prognosis wasn't good at first," she says. "I thought, I can either sit around and be miserable or I can live life to the full. I wanted to see my grandchild grow up. I wanted to help other people with COPD. I believe things happen for a reason."

Lynn is on a treatment regimen which includes six different drugs and a nebuliser. Two years ago she had a small catheter fitted, which passes from the lower neck into the windpipe and delivers oxygen directly into her lungs. It's held on by a discreet chain around her neck. "I clean it several times a day and it's wonderful," she says.

Lynn now helps other people who have COPD. She joined a local support group in Huntingdon called Hunts Breathe for Life, which she now chairs, and started to raise money for the cause.

"I started off doing some short walks. Then it occurred to me that I'd love to do the London Marathon. I called the British Lung Foundation and they were very enthusiastic and offered me a place. But when I told them I had COPD and was on oxygen, they were rather worried."

Lynn started her training by walking for just one minute on a treadmill at her local gym. Gradually, under the supervision of her nurse she increased the time until she was ready to realise her dream.

"It took me five days to finish the marathon," she says. "I had a trolley to help me walk and had my oxygen with me at all times. Every afternoon I'd go back to the hotel and rest. It was a wonderful experience. I raised over £14,000."

Lynn believes in living life to the full. "There was a time when I was very angry, and that's normal. I still have bad days. But when I look around, I see that there's always someone worse off than me."

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