David was well versed in the balancing act of life. He had a fulfilling career, healthy marriage, boisterous family and personal hobbies. He loved his job and diligently saved towards retirement. Then, just one year shy of his eligibility to collect his pension and gain access to senior healthcare services in the UK—a time when many hard-working family men enter a new phase of life, David was forced to face a far more challenging development.
It all started with a cough. But that cough didn’t go away. “He was struggling for breath,” says Eve, David’s wife of 45 years. “If we went out for a walk he couldn’t get very far without stopping.” David too, felt his cough wasn’t getting better, but rather, worse. He was worried.
“I smoked for three decades and used to drink a lot,” admits David. He also used to work in a foundry, surrounded by metallic fumes from the forge. Despite these undesirables, nothing explained the sudden onset of chronic respiratory issues.
After a series of tests, including a lung biopsy, the troublesome news came—nothing could prepare David for this. His doctor told him he had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and six months to two years to live. He couldn’t get the words out of his head, “six moths to two years.” David now had the difficult job of telling his family and co-workers about his dire situation. With great difficulty he told Eve. She was devastated. Eve had been patiently awaiting David’s retirement and the start of the next stage of their relationship. “I’m being robbed here,” she exclaimed. “I expected we would have another twenty years together!”
Now, despite the initial prediction, two full years have passed and David and Eve continue to enjoy their companionship. “Education is the best therapy,” explains David. “When I went to rehab they taught me how to breathe and what to do when I get an attack. It’s changed my life completely.” However, due to the onslaught of medical bills, David continues to work, sometimes with the assistance of a nasal oxygen cannula. “His biggest motivation is his job,” admits Eve. His boss assumed he’d have to stop once he got the disease, but David just couldn’t stay away. “I need to get up in the morning and do things,” says David. “If not, I’ll be dead in a month.”
Maintaining his job is also part of David’s larger strategy to help his family stay fiscally intact. Knowing that he has a limited time left, he wants to earn what he can, and maximize whatever benefits are available to his family posthumously. He and Eve also receive a huge amount of support from their church and community. “We’ve got a good network around us. You can just pick up the phone and there’ll be someone there for you.” David is a passionate and devout Christian and regularly meets with a bible study group. “David isn’t afraid to die, because he’s going to move on from this,” says Eve. “David’s condition has brought us closer together and it has challenged me to become more self sufficient.” David recognizes the immense support he receives from Eve and regards her as his greatest blessing. “I’ve got a lovely wife who loves me,” says David with a moist eye and Eve by his side. “Some people come home and have nothing.”
In a sea of uncertainty David strives for normalcy. He continues to work, and is finding new vitality in the fight against IPF. “As long as I can stay positive, and as long as I can stay infection-free, and as long as I can get up every morning, and I can breathe, and I can do my exercises, I can continue to live longer!”
What is Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a rare and serious irreversible lung disease. 'Idiopathic' means that the cause of the disease is unknown. 'Pulmonary' means it's a disease that impacts the lungs. 'Fibrosis' means scarring. In all, 'IPF' means an unknown factor is causing scarring of the lungs.
Over time, this scarring makes it difficult for the lungs to expand as you breathe. This is what's known as a restrictive lung disease. However, the non-specific symptoms of IPF may lead to misdiagnoses of obstructive lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Unlike IPF and other restrictive lung diseases where the lungs can't fully expand as you inhale, obstructive lung diseases occur when there is lung impairment due to a blockage or narrowing of the airways.