Ambassadors - 2017 Breathe and Win Raffle

Meet our Breathe Ambassadors! They are women living with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), renowned experts, researchers and leaders who are working actively towards creating awareness, access to education and resources regarding lung health and COPD. Read their inspiring stories here.

Karen Weeks

All Karen Weeks remembers about one fateful day in October 2014 was that she wasn’t able to breathe.  She struggled to get the much needed air in and out of her lungs, something that had come so naturally before.  She had been hospitalized for 21 days with a chest infection when the doctors told her she had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  When most people are told they have COPD, a lung disease that robs them of their breath, they don’t know what to expect. Unfortunately Karen had already experienced first-hand what COPD could do to a person because her father had passed away from the disease years earlier.

Although COPD is the number one cause of hospitalization in Canada, awareness about the disease remains low. COPD affects both men and women, but has become a crucial women’s health issue. Screening such as mammography, pap tests or bone density testing have become part of routine checkups for diseases common to women, however checking for COPD is not done enough.

Since being diagnosed with COPD, Karen’s life has changed.  She now takes medications every day to help keep her airways open and participates in a special exercise program for people with lung disease called pulmonary rehabilitation.  Karen has always been an active and hard working person and she didn’t want her disease to change that. She has learned how to best manage her COPD. By pacing herself and planning out her activities well in advance, Karen is still able to volunteer for many organizations, cheer her grandchildren on at their sporting events, and garden at her local community garden. 

Being diagnosed with the same disease that took her father was difficult, yet Karen chooses to focus on the positive.  She says, “ever since being told I have COPD, I focus more on my health than ever before.  I walk more than I ever have. I’m up to five miles every day!” Exercise at a slow controlled pace does not leave her too breathless and helps her muscles become more efficient at using the much needed oxygen.

Karen knows her breathing will only get worse with time.  However she remains optimistic that research will find even better ways to manage COPD and one day find a cure. She is telling her Breathe Story to inspire others to help make a difference.  She thinks of each of us like a seed she plants in her garden. With a little love and effort, together we can flourish and really make a difference.

By taking part in the Breathe and Win Raffle you can help make a difference and fund the much needed COPD research that gives women like Karen their breath back.

If you are over the age of 40 and smoke or used to smoke, you may be at risk for COPD.  Take this quick test to screen for symptoms of COPD:

  • Do you cough regularly?
  • Do you cough up phlegm regularly?
  • Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  • Do you wheeze when you exert yourself (exercise, go upstairs?)
  • Do you get many colds and do your colds usually last longer than your friend’s colds?
  • If you answered YES to any of these questions, ask your health care provider for a spirometry (breathing) test?

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Karen Webb

Take a chance, take a breath! That's exactly what Karen Webb did! She made the courageous decision to roll the dice for a second chance at life by receiving a double lung transplant.

Karen's journey with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) began a long time ago. COPD which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long term lung disease that takes your breath away and gets worse over time. It is the number one cause of hospitalization in Canada and the fourth leading cause of death. Although COPD affects men and women alike, it has become a crucial women's health issue.

Karen began smoking when she was just 13 years old. In her twenties and thirties, she had a cough that kept getting worse and would often have chest infections. By the time she was 40, it took everything she had to simply breathe. "It's very true when you can't breathe, nothing else matters! At first it was difficult for me to go up a flight of stairs, walk anywhere, or carry objects. I tried my best to pace myself but eventually, I became isolated and all my energy was spent on breathing."

COPD affected Karen's entire family. Her husband no longer had a partner in Karen. She became his patient. The things they once enjoyed together were no longer possible. Weekly family dinners that Karen hosted became a distant memory. Leaving the house was daunting and visiting her sick parents out of town was a struggle.

A severe COPD flare-up (lung attack), which can be just as deadly as a heart attack put Karen in the hospital. The doctors encouraged her to consider being put on the lung transplant list. After many medical tests, a close look at their finances and discussions with her family, Karen agreed to add her name to the list in hopes she would be given a second chance.

In August of 2016, she got 'the call.' She took an air ambulance to Edmonton, where the surgery was performed. Eight hours later, she had a new set of lungs. The following week, Karen experienced another miracle and became a grandmother.

Now at the age of 55, Karen has no idea who her donor was, but will forever be grateful for the gift of breath. Karen had a happy ending, but knows so many others don't. This past year, she watched her mom die of COPD. "It is extremely difficult to watch someone you love succumb to the disease that almost took me. My mom didn't have a happy ending like I did."

Today, Karen has a new lease on life. She is able to renew friendships and resume some physical activities. But most important to Karen is that she can spend quality time with her family, including her grandson, whom she cherishes. As a Breathe Ambassador for the Lung Association, Karen is hoping to give back to others who are struggling to breathe.

Karen's story is a remarkable one. However, many more women are left breathless and often don't have a second chance like she did. More than 1 in 10 women in our country, aged 40 and older are having their breath taken away by COPD. In Saskatchewan, about 30,453 women are living with the disease. That's about the population of a city the size of Moose Jaw!

COPD is taking the breath of too many people. Karen imagines a better future for her family.

Help make this a reality.

Take a chance, take a breath! By purchasing a ticket to the Breathe and Win Raffle you are supporting COPD research and lung health initiatives in Saskatchewan that gives women of tomorrow their breath back.

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Dr. Dianne Bekolay

"Take a big breath in... and out." With her stethoscope in hand, Dr. Dianne Bekolay has said these words countless times while listening to her patients breathe over the years. As a mother of three and a retired family doctor who spent much of her career in the community clinic in Prince Albert, Dianne is used to caring for others. Since being diagnosed with COPD, the roles are reversed. Being the patient herself is something she still isn't used to.

Most people start smoking when they are children. Dianne was just four years old the first time she tried her uncle's cigarette. Smoking became an activity to accompany work and social times in med school. By the time she was a doctor, smoking was much more than a social activity, it became an addiction.

Dianne was always active- hiking, cross country skiing and kayaking. She also loves music and enjoys singing in choirs and playing the flute. Over the years, she began to notice that these activities sometimes left her breathless. Three years ago after a pulmonary function test, she was told she had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is a long term lung disease that causes shortness of breath and gets worse over time.

As a retired doctor, she knows smoking is what caused her COPD, and that continuing to smoke will also make the disease worse at a faster rate. But, the addiction is powerful, and one that she still struggles with. She hopes to be able to quit smoking - the vice that is slowly taking her breath away.

Today, Dianne uses inhalers to help her breathe. She also takes part in a special exercise program for people with lung disease called pulmonary rehabilitation. She still tries to do everything she loves but paces herself. At the age of 72, she makes spending time with family a priority. She often travels with her sister and spends time with her children and grandchildren. She recently bought a camera to capture her memories and is learning how to use Photoshop. As a Lung Association Breathe Ambassador, she is sharing her story because she wants to help others, "to be empowered and to know how to best manage their disease so they can continue learning and living," she says.

The Lung Association offers free information online and has Certified Respiratory Educators to help you with any questions you have about breathing. By purchasing a Breathe and Win raffle ticket, you are helping us provide services to people with lung disease and allowing us to fund COPD research right here in Saskatchewan. Take a chance - take a breath, because for women like Dianne taking a breath isn't always easy.

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Marlene Donally

It was 15 years ago when Marlene Donally had to first come to terms with being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is a long term disease that causes shortness of breath and gets worse over time. Many people feel fear or anger after being diagnosed with a disease. Marlene felt guilt. As a person who smoked, she felt she had done this to herself. While smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD, it isn’t the only cause. 

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death, soon to be the third in our country. The disease affects both men and women, but has become a serious women’s health issue. Researchers think the effects of smoking have a greater impact on women’s lung health years later perhaps because women have smaller lungs, airways and breathing muscles compared to men.

Over time, Marlene has learned to let go of her guilt and is instead putting her energy into taking care of herself. Through education and pulmonary rehabilitation, a special exercise program for people with lung disease, Marlene is able to not only better manage her COPD but maximize her life. “There are things I can't do anymore but I've found alternative ways to handle most situations. Walking fast isn't possible but walking slowly still does the trick. And, carrying a gallon of milk 20 feet to the fridge leaves me breathless, but having a folding grocery cart solves that problem. Any exercise is good exercise no matter how slow,” she says.

In addition to her regular exercise routine, Marlene has also quit smoking 16 years ago which has been shown to slow the progression of COPD. She also takes medications to help her with her breathing.

Marlene is sharing her story to inspire others to become supporters of The Lung Association like she has. Marlene generously donates to the Lung Association for education programs and initiatives that have helped her and many others like her. By purchasing a Breathe and Win fall raffle ticket, you too can help improve lung health one breath at a time.

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Dr. Darcy Marciniuk

Meet Doctor Marciniuk, a World Renowned Expert in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Dr. Marciniuk is not only well known right here in Saskatchewan for helping people breathe easier, but also around the world.  Born and raised in Saskatchewan he is leader in lung health. Dr. Marciniuk  specializes in pulmonary rehabilitation which includes exercise testing, education and programing for people with lung disease, and in developing guidelines that set best practices of care for people with COPD.

Exciting new research - the first of its kind in Canada

Dr. Marciniuk is leading a unique study being conducted across Canada. The CanCOLD (Canadian Cohort of Obstructive Lung Disease) study is a long term COPD research project and the first of its kind in Canada! His research began over 5 years ago and will continue until 2023.  The goal of the study is to increase health care provider’s understanding as to how to best manage those people newly diagnosed with COPD, and people who develop symptoms of COPD early on in life. 

Research in Saskatchewan – making a difference together

Dr. Marciniuk is also co-leading a provincial research project to improve care delivery for people suffering from advanced COPD here in Saskatchewan.  Working with other researchers and healthcare disciplines, as well as many provincial agencies, the study design and implementation planning are nearly complete.  This research will lead to improved data collection and system delivery enhancements beginning in the Fall.  Research interests are varied and along with his colleague Dr. Erika Penz, Dr. Marciniuk is involved in an additional research study looking at the burden people with COPD and lung cancer experience.

Dr. Marciniuk has been the driving force in establishing the University of Saskatchewan’s Respirology Research Centre, a centre that will open later this year with a broad mandate to work across the province and beyond to support world-leading research and improve lung health.

Help make a healthier tomorrow

Research is one of our greatest tool to save lives. The innovative, cutting-edge research that people like Dr. Marciniuk are doing right here in Saskatchewan is made possible because of supporters like you.  The Lung Association is proud to be the premier source of lung health information for our province. All of our quality educational materials, programs, services, and treatment guidelines are based on current, evidence-based research.  By supporting the Breathe and Win raffle you are helping world class researchers like Dr. Marciniuk be one breath closer to a healthier tomorrow.  We ask you, please purchase your ticket today.

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Dr. Erika Penz

Meet Doctor Penz, Health Economist, Lung Specialist and Researcher

As a health economist and lung specialist, Dr. Penz is researching the burden lung disease has on not only her patients but across society as a whole. The widespread use of tobacco in the early part of the 20th century has taken an enormous toll on the health of her patients.  Most of them have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer.  With so many of Dr. Penz’s patients left breathless from tobacco products, she is passionate about exploring how to best help individuals quit smoking and prevent others from ever starting.

COPD and Lung Cancer – taking our breath away

Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths.  COPD is also a leading cause of suffering and death in Canada. Both of these diseases are mostly caused by smoking.  “People with COPD are not only at a greater risk for developing lung cancer, but often have worse outcomes after a lung cancer diagnosis and lung cancer treatment.  Because of their lung function impairment, my patients with COPD usually do not meet the criteria for curative lung cancer surgery. This impacts their chance of survival after receiving their diagnosis,” says Dr. Penz.

Research - instilling hope for Saskatchewan’s future

Dr. Penz’s research aims to improve the understanding the burden lung cancer in Saskatchewan has through analysis of survival, early death and lost productivity in this population. More specifically, her research explores the impact patients with COPD and lung cancer face.  If Dr. Penz finds that COPD patients who also have lung cancer have worse health outcomes, or potentially receive less aggressive treatment due to their coexisting lung disease, there may be opportunities for her to also discover the reasons for this.  She wants to find ways to improve the care these individuals receive.

Help Saskatchewan breathe easier

Dr. Penz’s hope is that her research can help clinicians and decision makers understand the burden that people with COPD and lung cancer experience and through this, design programs that will improve their quality of life.  Your support can help make this a reality.  By supporting the Breathe and Win raffle you are helping people with COPD and lung cancer breathe easier. You are investing in a future free of lung disease. Our ask is simple, purchase your ticket today.

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Photo Credit: Amy Thorp Photography