Chairman of Breathe Easy support group battles with COPD

Working with the British Lung Foundation to support COPD sufferers

Eric Compton

Eric Compton

Every year Public Health England runs Stoptober, an initiative that challenges smokers to quit for 28 days of the month. People who make it are then five times more likely to quit for good.

We all know that smoking has very harmful effects, causing numerous types of cancer and damaging the heart, brain, arteries, skin and lungs. But some people understand the effects of smoking more than most.

One such person is Eric Compton, who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD. Since being diagnosed, Eric has started and is now chairman of a Breathe Easy support group in his local area of Portsmouth. He also does a lot of work with the British Lung Foundation (BLF) to raise awareness of COPD, how to manage it and the negative health affects smoking has on the lungs.

What is COPD?

Eric was diagnosed with COPD in 2007 after being a heavy smoker for 50 years.

“My symptoms included coughing, wheezing and breathlessness, which are typical breathing issues with this condition. I was taken to hospital with severe breathing difficulties in 2007, and my doctor told me I was lucky to be alive. I was referred to a respiratory physiotherapist who taught me some full body exercises that would strengthen my lungs, although I didn’t actually quit smoking until 2008.

“Earlier this year I was also diagnosed with lung cancer caused by my smoking. I didn’t have any symptoms, but the tumour showed up in an ECG. My doctor rushed me straight off to hospital and I had an operation to remove it almost immediately. I’ve made a nearly full recovery since then, and have regular checks up to make sure it doesn’t come back.”

Breathe Easy Support Group

The Breathe Easy Portsmouth group on their Pier to Pier walk

The Breathe Easy Portsmouth group on their Pier to Pier walk

Eric felt that there was a lack of local support for people with COPD and related conditions, so with the encouragement of his physiotherapist, decided to create a Breathe Easy support group for the Portsmouth area.

“I started the group in 2010 with the help of the BLF to offer support, advice and more information to people living with COPD. We generally meet once a month and have talks from visiting health professionals, physiotherapists and other sufferers. We cover 9 respiratory rehab groups in the South East area and most people enjoy mixing with other sufferers who can understand their condition.

“We regularly organise fundraising activities too, to raise money for the BLF, which is spent on research and treatment. This June, a team of people from our group undertook the challenge of walking from Clarence Pier to Southsea Pier. It’s only a mile long journey, but for people with COPD or other chronic lung conditions, it really is a struggle. Many of the team had to stop for breaks and to use inhalers because their breathing capabilities have been so badly damaged. It was a great success though and raised £1000 – a very impressive sum!

“We try to raise awareness of lung conditions too and encourage others to live healthy lifestyles. In 2014, the local hospital donated some hand held spirometers to the group which we then used with the general public to show them just how much smoking can affect your respiratory system.”

A spirometer measures lung capacity and airflow, and is a great way of clearly showing the difference between a smokers’ lungs and a non-smoker’s.

“Breathlessness is a very common symptom and most people don’t think twice about it, but it can be an early sign of a lung problem like COPD,” says Eric. “I think spirometers are a great way to engage the younger generation, as it takes 2 minutes for them to stop in the street and talk to us, during which we can give them really eye opening advice and information. If anyone we meet has abnormal breathing we always recommend they get it checked out by their doctor.”

COPD is a surprisingly common condition in the Hampshire area due, to the legacy of the shipping industry there. Asbestos-related illness is a common occurrence, with sufferers often having COPD as well as other lung conditions.

BLF Partnership

Eric has a strong relationship with the BLF, who have supported his efforts and fundraising since initially starting his Breathe Easy group in 2010.

Eric meeting Jeremy Hunt

Eric meeting Jeremy Hunt

“The BLF have been a great help in supporting our Breathe Easy group. They always arrange posters and leaflets about events and help to promote them, but the Breathe Easy committee always organises the event itself.

“The BLF have asked me to visit other support groups in the past to give talks, which I always enjoy. I also give talks to GPs and CCG (Clinical Commissioning Groups) to educate them about the symptoms to watch out for and what support people with the condition need. It’s surprising how little some people know about COPD, so raising awareness is really important.

“Every Breathe Easy group acts as the voice of the people living with this condition. In May 2014 we organised a meeting with Jeremy Hunt and representatives of the support groups to discuss how he can help people with COPD. For starters, we need more respiratory rehab units with the correct equipment and trained staff, and more money needs to go towards research and care. The chairman of the CCG UK came to one of the meetings I was talking at and was really interested in what we do, so hopefully we’ll see some positive changes soon.”

Eric recently won the Unsung Hero award at the Best of Health Awards for his fundraising activities, held this year in Portsmouth. He was nominated by a BLF employee for his outstanding work in helping improve the lives of people suffering from lung conditions.

Medical ID Jewellery

Eric's personalised COPD wristband

Eric’s personalised COPD wristband

Eric and his Breathe Easy team thought it was a good idea to carry some form of medical ID jewellery with their condition.

“It was actually a committee member who discovered the ID Band Company. She’d heard of other company’s doing specialist medical ID but didn’t like that they were all metal based, so we requested a catalogue to see what they offered. We all really liked their silicone bracelets – they are more obvious than other versions which can look a bit too similar to normal jewellery. The silicone ones are comfortable, light and easy to wear and they feature the universally recognisable medical symbol.

“We showed them to South Central Ambulance Service, our local team, who thought they were a great idea. Apparently they can often end up wasting time trying to identify a patient’s medical conditions so wristbands with the information on are a great way to help them treat the person quickly and correctly. If people are having a serious breathing problems because of their COPD, they might not be able to speak properly to tell the paramedics what is wrong, so the ID jewellery can say it for them. We’re the only group that sells on these wristbands, which all have ‘Medical Alert! COPD’ engraved.”

Mike McKevitt

Mike McKevitt

Mike McKevitt, Head of Patient Services at the British Lung Foundation, said:

“Eric’s idea to create COPD alert wristbands has been a huge success and we couldn’t be happier about what he’s achieved. Working with people like Eric makes our job of providing help and support to people with a lung disease much easier. Breathe Easy Portsmouth South and the rest of the BLF Breathe Easy network represent an invaluable pillar of support to their communities, helping improve the quality of life of those affected by lung disease, their families and carers.”

Maintaining Lung Health

Eric is passionate about the work he does and is determined to help other sufferers.

“Ultimately, the message in our awareness and fundraising work is the same: don’t smoke, always get breathing symptoms checked out by your GP and stick to the exercise programme your respiratory rehab team gives you.”

If you want to stop smoking, sign up for the NHS’s Smokefree support pack and advice now.