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Tags: nimoy | copd | death | smoking

Leonard Nimoy's Heartbreaking Battle With COPD

By    |   Sunday, 01 March 2015 12:39 PM

When beloved actor Leonard Nimoy was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment eight days before his death, it signified his final struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition he had battled for years.

Although the “Star Trek” star had quit smoking 30 years earlier, Nimoy said that the damage from the habit didn’t surface until later. And when it did, the results were tragically lethal. The 83 year old, best known for his portrayal as Mr. Spock, died in his Bel-Air home on Friday.

Pulmonologist Alberto J. Polito, M.D., told Newsmax Health that Nimoy’s case is not unusual. Although Dr. Polito did not treat the actor, he said many of his COPD patients suffer the delayed effects of smoking long after they quit.

“It’s my suspicion that Nimoy did a lot of damage to his lungs from smoking, but not so much that it’s effects were felt when he was in his 50s and 60s,” said Dr. Polito, chief of pulmonary medicine and medical director of the Lung Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

“As he continued to grow older and lose lung cells he reached a critical point of not having enough lung tissue to maintain the oxygen level his body needed.”

There are three degrees of COPD – mild, moderate, and severe. When COPD becomes severe, it causes flare-ups, which are called “exacerbations.” With each exacerbation, COPD patients lose more lung tissue, further eroding their breathing capacity.

Nimoy was apparently suffering a flare-up when he was rushed to the hospital on Feb. 19 complaining of chest pain. Chest pain and shortness of breath are symptoms of an exacerbation. “The airways get very, very tight and the patient cannot catch their breath. It’s a very frightening feeling,” said Dr. Polito.

“Flare ups are often triggered by infection, changes in the weather, or exposure to substances that are irritating to the lung. In an acute flare up, airways get very tight and patients must be hospitalized. That’s debilitating and they lose their normal level of functioning. It’s a hit to the system,” he added.

According to Dr. Polito, the tragedy of COPD is that, although there has been progress on how to treat the symptoms of the disease, no significant strides have made in terms of a cure. Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with the disease is climbing as the American population ages.

“There have been many strides made against heart disease and, although we have a ways to go, we have made progress in treating many types of cancer. But COPD has completely bucked that trend,” said Dr. Polito. “The death rate keeps going up and up and up.”

Studies show that about 8 percent of people hospitalized for COPD die in the hospital, and one in four who are released succumb within the next six months.

“Being hospitalized for COPD is a big deal. The mortality figures for those who die in the hospital from COPD and heart attack are about the same,” said Dr. Polito.

In the last year of his life, Nimoy made it his mission to warn others about COPD, often taking to social media to warn against smoking, which is the primary cause of the illness.

Although he was able to make public appearances during his fight with the ailment, he used an oxygenator, a portable device that helps people with COPD breathe.

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

Before he quit in the 1980s, Nimoy was a three-pack-a-day smoker. He said he was shocked to be diagnosed with COPD decades after quitting.

“I didn’t think it was fair,” he told the interviewer.

Last year he took to Twitter in an effort to help others avoid his fate:

“Smokers, please understand. If you quit after you’re diagnosed with lung damage it’s too late… learn my lesson. Quit now. LLAP (Live long and prosper).”

© 2022 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.


Headline
When beloved actor Leonard Nimoy was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment eight days before his death, it signified his final struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition he had battled for years. Although the "Star Trek" star had quit...
nimoy, copd, death, smoking
654
2015-39-01
Sunday, 01 March 2015 12:39 PM
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