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Tags: Leonard | Nimoy | lung | chronic | obstructive | pulmonary | disease

Leonard Nimoy's Death Sheds Light on Little Known Killer

Leonard Nimoy's Death Sheds Light on Little Known Killer
(Copyright Julie Nimoy)

By    |   Monday, 08 February 2016 02:54 PM

Leonard Nimoy died a year ago this month but his family is determined to keep his legacy alive by spreading awareness about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,  the lung disease that took his life.
    “COPD is the third biggest killer in the country. My father spent his last year trying to warn people about it and this is the mission that we’ve taken on,” Julie Nimoy, his daughter, tells Newsmax Health.
    Nimoy, the legendary actor best known for his role as "Star Trek’s" Mr. Spock, died last Feb. 27 at the age of 83, after a two-year battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known also as COPD.
    It’s estimated that 12 million Americans have the disease, which encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but up to 24 million have it but have not been diagnosed, the American Lung Association says. 
    The five-year mortality rate for people with COPD typically ranges from 40 to 70 percent, and about 50 percent of those with a severe form of the disease die within two years, which is a far higher mortality rate than for people with many common cancers.  
 “ People are either unaware of the early warning signs of COPD, or they are afraid to go to the doctor so the disease is usually not diagnosed until it is very advanced,” says David Knight, Julie Nimoy’s husband, who is raising funding and working with her so that a documentary entitled “COPD: Highly Illogical” can be created to help fulfill the actor’s last wish.
    “My father was a very active man,” says Julie. The two enjoyed piloting planes together, and even flew across the country once when Nimoy was appearing in summer stock.  They also enjoyed boating together on Lake Tahoe, where Nimoy had a home. 
    “My father was private about his health and he never wanted to reveal anything was wrong because he didn’t want us to worry about him. But I could see he wasn’t able to walk fast anymore without trying to catch his breath,” recalls Julie.
    Nimoy was diagnosed with COPD in 2013. Eventually, he could do less and less, and increasingly needed the help of a portable oxygenator at times to breathe.  “He got to the point where he couldn’t manage higher elevation of Lake Tahoe, so he decided to sell the house because it made him too sad to think about all the things he couldn’t do there anymore,’ she recalls.
    Nimoy kept the illness private but he felt he had no choice but to go public with it in 2014.  “He was at an airport, seated in a wheelchair, with his oxygen, and he was spotted by photographers.  The photos went out with the headline, ‘What’s wrong with Leonard Nimoy?,’ so my father decided to go on CNN and say, ‘This is what I have, and I want to tell you about it,’” she says.
    From that moment, Nimoy became an activist about COPD and also against  smoking,  which is by far the most significant risk factor for the disease.  Nimoy, who described himself on CNN as an “Olympic championship smoker,” was angry and shocked to learn the habit, which he had quit 30 years before, had caused his illness, says Julie.    
    “When my dad was diagnosed with COPD, he couldn’t believe it. But then he learned that the damage is done when you smoke, no matter how long ago you had quit. He said, ‘I quit smoking and I got this. If I could get it, anybody could, so I have to get the word out on this right away,’” says Julie
    In fact, Nimoy was so ardent that he continued sending messages on Twitter up to just weeks before he died. “Don’t Smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP,” signing off, as he always did, with the characteristic letters  LLAP, for “Live Long and Prosper,” his signature Star Trek phrase.
    But Nimoy also wanted to enlighten people that smoking is not the only cause of COPD, notes David Knight.
    “There is a lot of stigma associated with COPD because people think they brought it on themselves, but one of the facts we want to get out there is that up to 20 percent of the people who get it didn’t smoke. Maybe it was second-hand smoke, but there is also a genetic component. There is research going on because we don’t understand everything about it,” he adds.
    Nimoy was dedicated to spreading COPD awareness but, as his health was deteriorating so they proposed the idea of a film to him and he was “very supportive about the project and started it off,” says Knight. 
     “Before COPD took his life, my father became more and more determined to educate about others about COPD. He cared so much, and he worked so hard towards that goal before he died,” Julie added.

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Leonard Nimoy's death sheds new light on COPD, the disease that killed him a year ago.
Leonard, Nimoy, lung, chronic, obstructive, pulmonary, disease
Monday, 08 February 2016 02:54 PM
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