Cliff Willmett suffers from a condition that goes undetected in thousands of Australians.
Medical experts are calling for early diagnosis of a common, serious and often underdiagnosed lung condition.
Often referred to as ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ‘emphysema’, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects one in five Australians over 40 years of age.
However, as many as half of these people are unaware they have the condition, despite experiencing symptoms that impact their daily lives.
Ten years ago Cedar Creek resident Cliff Willmett was diagnosed as having emphysema, which can affect both smokers and non-smokers.
“I was starting to find it difficult to do the things I normally did at that stage, which was primarily water skiing,” the 65-year-old said.
“I asked the doctor, ‘why can’t I keep up anymore?’, and he said I had emphysema as the result of a hereditary thing.
“He said I have an deficiency of Alpha 1 antitrypsin, which is produced in the kidneys and go into your blood stream and regulates your blood cells.
“Having a deficiency of that chemical there’s a great difficulty in absorbing oxygen... and a 95 per cent probability you’ll end up with emphysema.”
Mr Willmett takes part in weekly exercise sessions with Wilston Windbags support group and travels with an oxygen concentrator, to help him breathe.
“This machine’s been to 15 countries with me,” he said. “It doesn’t stop me, it just slows me down.”
Australia’s Health 2012 reveals Australia has one of the highest rates of death caused by COPD in the developed world.
The report, issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlights that deaths in Australia from the condition have declined over the past 20 years.
However, mortality rates place Australia in the bottom third of the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“While there is no cure, there are things a person can do to slow down the progression of the disease, improve quality of life and stay out of hospital,” said Australian Lung Foundation spokesman, Associate Professor Ian Yang.
“Thousands of Australians ignore the real signs of COPD – such as having a productive cough, experiencing shortness of breath on exertion or getting bronchitis – and place themselves at risk of severe lung attacks.”
Mr Willmett advises: “If you’re a bit puffed after walking to the top of two flights of stairs, go and get tested straight away.”
The Australian Lung Foundation has compiled a lung health checklist, to help people better understand their lungs.
The checklist can be viewed at http://www.lungfoundation.com.au/