Fighting for air: Elaine Ackley

Elaine sitting in front of a window
GOLD/ICC/Douglas Levere

Elaine Ackley, 58 years old, lives in Buffalo, New York. At age 16, she started smoking to lose weight, following the advice of her physician at the time. "Every time I started a diet, I started to smoke," she says. After decades of tobacco use, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) developed. As she celebrates her birthday on World COPD Day, 15 November, she marks her triumphs for healthier living.

"I quit smoking for good 15 years ago and started running," says Elaine. Instead of feeling better, her shortness of breath got worse - signalling a problem. Because COPD develops slowly, it is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 years or over.

COPD is a chronic, debilitating lung disease that compromises quality of life and can cause premature death. A diagnosis is confirmed by a simple test called spirometry, which measures how deeply a person breathes and how fast air can move in and out of the lungs.

Elaine with family members
GOLD/ICC/Douglas Levere

After diagnosis, Elaine did not give up. She tries to do some exercise every day and stay active. Although exercise will not reverse lung disease, it is an effective way to improve well-being and overall health.

Elaine climbing stairs
GOLD/ICC/Douglas Levere

Regardless of the activities Elaine struggles with - such as dancing, taking long walks along the river with her husband, or simply climbing up the stairs - she celebrates her successes. "I have outlived the average patient and I still don't need oxygen all the time."

Elaine with her two small grandchildren
GOLD/ICC/Douglas Levere

Elaine aims to live life to the fullest, day-by-day. "I love to hug my children and grandchildren… but I am very worried how chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may affect their future lives."