Dr. Christine Fukui of Tripler Army Medical Center once encountered a patient whose symptoms continually eluded his doctors. Persistently suffering from shortness of breath, the patient jumped from doctor to doctor, enduring test after test for potential heart problems. But all the tests came back normal. According to the results, he was fine, but his symptoms continued. Finally, one doctor tested his lung function, which revealed the problem: The patient had a genetic condition of emphysema, a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Fukui says that this condition is not uncommon, but it was not discovered sooner because, in large part, doctors often don’t think to test for COPD. “What’s sad is this: COPD is very common, and it is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.,” explains Fukui, who served as Kaiser’s chief of pulmonary for nearly 30 years. “And not only do not a lot of people know that, but a lot of people are undiagnosed.” About half of COPD cases in the U.S. are undiagnosed.
The term COPD encompasses a variety of conditions, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and a variety of other less-common diseases. Fukui strives to raise awareness about COPD within the medical community, encouraging clinics to test for it. She also aims to educate patients about the condition, possible treatments and what they can do to care for themselves.
On Sept. 8, Fukui will share her insights as a volunteer lecturer at the sixth annual COPD Education Day, which is hosted by Hawaii COPD Coalition as part of its efforts to provide services and improve treatment for COPD sufferers. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Queen’s Conference Center and will consist of various exhibits and services, in addition to lectures. The event also provides a supportive environment where COPD sufferers can meet others who deal with similar struggles.
“Doctors have just a finite amount of time with patients, and patients have a lot of questions,” Fukui says. “There is a lot of education that doesn’t get done in terms of what you can do for yourself, the fact that there is treatment and the fact that it is not hopeless.”
Fukui hopes that these efforts will increase awareness about COPD in order to reduce the amount of people who are affected. “If you don’t think about it and test for it, the patient will never get the treatment,” Fukui says.
The theme of this year’s COPD Education Day is Caring For Yourself and Others. The free event is designed mainly for COPD patients and caregivers. It will include informational exhibits hosted by groups including the Department of Health and home care companies. Respiratory therapy care providers also will be on hand to conduct lung function tests, and pharmacists will discuss proper use of medications. Pre-registration is recommended. Visit hawaiicopd.org.