April 3, 2014

Virginia Harrison


Struck down with COPD at the age of 14, Virginia has coped with health problems for many years but still enjoys life. She has been an active member of the ‘Better Breathers Group’ in Rosebud, Victoria, for over two years and is a good example of a strong spirit overcoming indifferent health.

My name is Virginia, I am 59 years old, and I have had Lung Disease for 45 years. I was first diagnosed with Lung Disease in 1966, when I was 14 years of age. I still remember the day like it was yesterday.

It was a sunny day in winter, when I arrived at the front steps of the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, I was to undergo a Bronchial gram. I had developed a heavy cough which did not seem to respond to most anti-biotic’s, so I was referred to the Alfred Hospital for further investigations. It soon didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not going to enjoy this particular test. Back in 1966, you weren’t given a sedative or an anesthetic, they just held you down and got on with the job at hand. I still remember the technician’s complaining about having to do this particular test to someone so young, and that neither one of them had ever preformed this type of x-ray on such a young person. That particular day I underwent more testing for various things, none were very pleasant.

The diagnosis came in and my mother was informed that I had Bronchiectasis in the lower lobe of my left lung. The whole thing was a mystery, how did this young child develop a Lung Disease. We were informed by the Doctors, that it had developed over time, by having continued Lung Infections. Although I used to have colds like any other child, my mother never recalled me ever having Lung Infections. As the years went on, and I grew into an adult, we all assumed that it had developed because of second hand smoke, due to many members of my family who did smoke in the home throughout my entire childhood. Fortunately for me I never smoked.

By the time I reached my late 20’s, I had Bronchiectasis in both lungs, and had developed Asthma. I just continued my life as I always did. I had Lung Disease for most of my life so nothing seemed any different for me. I was always short of breath, and had an embarrassing husky cough, and because I was so used to that being part of my life, I just continued on. I had always worked from the time I was 17 years until 47 years of age. I travelled the world, just like everyone else did, the only difference was that before I got on a plane, I would take extra medication to help with the flight. I also took extra medication and anti-biotics in my hand luggage just in case of developing an infection while away. Nothing stopped me from doing all the things that everyone else did, I would exercise within my means, and try and live a relatively normal life. I was a big believer that I was going to control this disease, and not have it control me.

I have now had to face yet another challenge in my life, nearly one year ago at the age of 58 years, I was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, two devastating auto-immune diseases. I suddenly realized something that explained my entire life, the mystery of the Lung Disease, in a young person who never smoked, was solved. I was born with the gene, which would develop, and compromise my immune system, which would make me more susceptible to infection.

I will again conquer and control this disease, and I will not allow it to conquer and control me.