Danica Patrick, one of the world’s top drivers competing in “The Great American Race”—NASCAR’s 54th Annual Daytona 500—speaks out about another race she intends to win: finding people at risk of a lung condition before they struggle to make a pinwheel spin.
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, robs an estimated 24 million Americans of their ability to breathe. But nearly 12 million are unaware that they are developing one of its two forms—chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both conditions starve the body of oxygen by stopping air from entering and exiting the lungs. In chronic bronchitis, inflammation narrows the airways. Emphysema damages delicate air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs.
Serious problems don’t happen overnight. Breathing gradually becomes more difficult for people with COPD until they feel as though they are inhaling and exhaling through a small straw, according to DRIVE4COPD.com, an ongoing awareness campaign that Danica Patrick supports in honor of her grandmother who had emphysema.
The Post caught up with the popular race driver in the days before her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the 2012 Daytona 500.
“There wasn’t one specific moment when we knew that my grandmother had COPD, ” recalls Patrick. “Her disease was progressing in the 1990s, but we didn’t realize it. Today we want to spread the word that people must pay attention to early symptoms. There’s no cure, but early diagnosis and treatment can improve symptoms so patients can take a trip, walk outside, or live in a two-story house—all those things that become difficult when you can’t breathe.”
COPD also affects family and friends who step up to care for loved ones with a disease that too often takes lives before age 70. Patrick’s grandmother passed away in 2001 at age 61.
“If you won’t take steps to address COPD for your own sake, do it for your spouse, your kids, or your grandkids,” urges Patrick. “I have happy memories of Grandma about getting ice cream, playing at her house, and earning a quarter for doing chores. But it’s sad for me that she’s not here in this chapter of my life—we never had the chance to know each other as adults.”
Get on track to better breathing with Patrick’s race day tips:
1. Ready! Recognize common symptoms of COPD: coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest tightness. “Normal activities should not be difficult to complete and they should not make you cough,” says Patrick.
2. Set! Go to DRIVE4COPD.com and answer five short questions to learn more about COPD and identify your risk. “We live in an age of technology and should take advantage of it. Join the more than 2 million people who have taken the online quiz,” encourages Patrick.
3. Go! Print off the results and take it your doctor. “It’s a great way to start the conversation about finding a treatment plan that works for you,” she adds.
- COPD is often overlooked and undertreated.
- More lives are lost to COPD each year than breast cancer and diabetes combined.
- Many patients are not diagnosed until they have lost half their lung function, are hospitalized, or require emergency care to treat the disease.
- Lung damage is not reversible, but it is treatable with care from a healthcare professional.