Robert B. was just starting Central High School in Phoenix when he started smoking cigarettes. He smoked two packs a day for decades.
“I’ve been a heavy smoker,” says Robert, now 78. “Everybody around me smoked. All my friends smoked. It was just the thing to do. In those days (1960s), everybody wanted to be the Marlboro Man,” the once-ubiquitous rugged cigarette-smoking cowboy on TV commercials and billboards, originally conceived by a top ad agency to popularize filtered cigarettes, which at the time were considered feminine.
“It seems like a silly thing now, but it was the ‘in’ thing back then,” shares Robert, who smoked both regulars and menthols, depending on what was available and what was on sale. Later in life, when at home, he smoked a pipe. And not just any pipe, but the highly refined white-throated meerschaum clay pipes, the finest heat-resistant pipes you can buy. He loved the taste and smell of the pipe tobacco much more than cigarettes.
Facing health issues
One day, while visiting his cabin near Flagstaff with his brother-in-law, Robert started feeling awful. He had developed a severe cough and would spit up a heavy, clear, sticky mucus nearly a dozen times a day. “I was spitting that up all the time – all day long,” he explains. “I was miserable.”
He eventually was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease characterized by long-term respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation.
When describing how he felt at his cabin, he says, “I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing and blew a hole in my lung.”
Paramedics were called. Robert was taken to the Flagstaff Medical Center. For several weeks after, he had a tube placed in his chest to help him breathe. He was put on oxygen full-time, and he has been dependent on supplemental oxygen ever since, even to this day. However, the oxygen didn’t stop his constant fits of coughing.
Finding new treatment options
While at one of his son’s parties, Robert started coughing uncontrollably. Someone at the party suggested he see Richard Sue, MD, a pulmonologist and independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff, who conducts clinical trials at the HonorHealth Research Institute. Robert was accepted into a study, but the first time around he only received a placebo. Eventually, he underwent two procedures at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center to seal off the multiple sources of thick mucus in his lungs.
“I still have a hard time breathing, but I don’t have near the mucus that I had before,” he explains. “The procedures helped a lot with the coughing. I’m now down to just a couple of times a day. It’s better than it was.”
Robert still drives and gets out of the house sometimes to visit Walmart with his wife of 56 years, Joella.
When asked if others with COPD should go through the same procedure, and have it done through the HonorHealth Research Institute, he says emphatically, “Yes! I would. I don’t have a complaint at all. They bent over backward for me. Everybody there has been very nice, very helpful. I can’t say enough about the hospital. I thought the people were great. Dr. Sue and his staff were amazing.”