Woman shares story of struggle to quit smoking, overcoming illness

- November is National COPD Awareness Month and a valley woman wanted to share her struggle with the disease...and how she is conquering it now.

She hopes it will help others from suffering the same fate.

“Probably 30 years, a good thirty years. I quit once and started again for 10 years and I quit for good 8 years ago, [but[ the damage had already been done,” said Norma Werkman.  

Shortly before she quit smoking for the second time, Werkman was diagnosed with severe COPD, or congestive obstructive pulmonary disease, which can also be referred to as emphysema.

“I had to go to the emergency room,” Norma said. “I had a bad cold and I thought I broke my ribs from coughing so hard, but I went to the emergency room and he took the X-ray he said the scarring was so bad  in my lungs he said you really, really need to quit now.”

The damage was irreplaceable, which meant that simple tasks like climbing stairs or even having a conversation were exhausting.

This became Norma's everyday reality. The oxygen tank she carried around was a part of life, but in January 2014 she learned about a possible breakthrough.

Norma was selected to participate in a study that was testing a new procedure that implanted a valve or valves into the lungs.  

“The Pulmonx Chartis System provides precise pulmonary flow pressure readings, allowing physicians to assess patient’s collateral ventilation.”

“They went inside prepared to do this transplant…this was a year before I qualified then, but it was a random sampling and I didn’t get it then…it was devastating to me,” Norma said.

A year and a half later the procedure was performed.

“Several valves can be placed in the diseased lobe [and] the valve can be easily removed if necessary.”

“By controlling airflow the value, [it[ allows the healthy lobes to expand and function more efficiently.”

“It basically shrinks the upper half of my lobe…the one third of my lobe and increases the expansion of the other 2/3 so I have more room to breathe on that side,” said Norma.   

The new treatment is being investigated in the Liberate study at St. Joseph's Hospital.  

More than 25,000 Zephyr valves have been implanted outside of the U.S. in the last 10 years.

While physicians await FDA approval, Norma is moving forward and literally breathing a sigh of relief thanks to the clinical trial.

“If I can get one person to stop smoking, that be awesome or one person to go to a pulmonologist would be even better,” Norma said.  

Dignity Health St. Joseph's Hospital Offers Clinical Trial For Patients with Emphysema

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