A GRANDMOTHER who lost her husband to a cruel disease which destroys the lungs has spoken out about the harsh effects of smoking as a new campaign is launched to urge people to quit.
Stewart Rutter, born and bred in Seahouses, died 10 years ago from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at just 61 years old.
He was a champion golfer and a sports-fanatic but after developing COPD he struggled to breathe and ended up spending 24 hours a day relying on oxygen to help him.
The disease affected him so much that his daughter, Ailsa, now 45, started work with the Stop Smoking service and got involved with Fresh, England’s first dedicated regional office for tobacco control, to tackle the high toll of death and disease caused by smoking.
Now Fresh and the British Lung Foundation have joined forces to launch a new campaign.
‘Every breath’ aims to highlight the long-term effects of smoking-related COPD, the umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, in a bid to encourage more people to quit smoking.
And Stewart’s wife and Ailsa’s mother Moff, 70, is backing the campaign.
Despite the largest drop in smoking in England the North East has the worst rate of COPD in the country.
Around 8,700 people were diagnosed with the condition in 2008-09, but it is estimated that around 32,000 more people in the North East have the disease but have never been diagnosed.
With permission from Sting to use his lyrics, ‘Every breath’ aims to show how COPD is a progressive disease and challenges the assumption among most smokers that being short of breath is normal.
Mother-of-two and grandmother-of-three, Moff, who now lives in Beadnell, said: “It is terrible to see somebody suffer like that.
“Stewart really suffered, he was such an active person. He was a workaholic and a golfaholic, he desperately tried to keep going as long as he could.
“But COPD is progressive, in the end he had to give up work and he couldn’t go round the golf course, it was devastating for him.
“He kept it to himself for such a long time and then when he was diagnosed it was even more devastating for him. The medical teams, family and friends were fantastic and he did everything he could to get better, but there isn’t any getting better from COPD. He just got worse.
“Stewart lived with it for a number of years, we were all aware that he wasn’t well but then he got numerous infections in his lungs and it went from there.
“He went from being an active man to spending every day trying to breathe. He was on oxygen 24 hours a day. He loved holidays but it became a nightmare to get away. We couldn’t get medical insurance and the last holiday we went on he had to arrange to have oxygen available in the hotel room, and that was three years before he died.
“I would tell anyone to please stop smoking, COPD is a devastating illness. People are not aware of what they are doing to their own bodies. It is a terrible way to die.
“Young people are not aware of what cigarettes do to you.
“At the end Stewart was a skeleton, all his energy was going in to trying to breathe.”
Moff added: “Ailsa was so fanatical about the subject because she saw what it did to her father.
“She was living in Australia and came home because she was aware that her father’s health was deteriorating.”
Stewart, who has another daughter Sally-Ann, 39, and two granddaughters, still holds records at Bamburgh Golf Club.
He doted on his grandchildren but died before his grandson was born. Moff used to smoke but gave up before Stewart became ill.
“There were about eight of us who said, ‘right, we are all giving up’,” she said.
“We tried to encourage him to give up but he was the very last one and that was because he couldn’t smoke with oxygen in a cylinder.
“But the rest of us have still given up and are total non-smokers now.”
A survey of smokers in the North East found that 67 per cent weren’t even aware of COPD or the debilitating effect on people’s lives.
Ailsa said: “The North East has the highest rate of COPD in the whole of England. COPD stops people from being able to breathe properly – they feel like they are suffocating.
“This campaign is a UK first – the North East is the first region in the whole of the country to use COPD in a stop smoking campaign – and the fact that we are leading the way on this is certainly something to be proud of.
“We want people in the North East to be the best informed in the country about the health harms of smoking. We hope that with ‘Every breath’, we are able to provide the hard facts about the terrible effects of COPD and further encourage more people to quit smoking as early as possible to prevent it.”
COPD is the UK’s fifth biggest killer, killing more people than breast, bowel or prostate cancer every year.
Eighty per cent of cases are caused by smoking and the symptoms of COPD are often presumed to be the ‘normal’ side effects of being a smoker, such as breathlessness and a ‘smoker’s cough’.
Because it is a disease which affects breathing, it is the second biggest cause of emergency admissions to hospital and costs the NHS an estimated £491million every year.
Dr Mark Weatherhead, respiratory consultant physician at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “COPD is a disease mainly caused by smoking. Unfortunately it is a disease many smokers don’t know much about until they are diagnosed. It can be a cruel disease but its worst ravages can be prevented by quitting smoking early enough. More awareness and education can only be a good thing.
“A person with COPD will experience a much more rapid and severe decline in the function of their lungs, which will make daily life seem a struggle. Tasks that they previously took for granted such as walking upstairs, washing or shopping become tremendously hard work.
“For anyone who smokes, is in their mid to late 30s or older and is experiencing shortness of breath it is likely they are experiencing COPD in the early stages. At that point it is vital to stop smoking now before things get worse.
“Many COPD patients do find stopping smoking and treatment can really help their quality of life, but unfortunately we do not have any treatments that stop COPD getting worse or reverse the damage already sustained. The only way to stop the deterioration in lung function is to stop smoking.”
As well as a team of medical experts throughout the region, Freshhas partnered with the British Lung Foundation to help raise awareness of COPD.
Bev Wears, Support and Development Manager at the British Lung Foundation North of England, said: “We are delighted to back this campaign as we are all too aware of the damage that COPD causes both physically and emotionally. Many people with COPD tell us they wish they had known more about the disease and its links to smoking when they were younger. The British Lung Foundation is extremely pleased that Fresh is helping to highlight the facts.”
‘Every breath’ also has the backing of musician Sting, who is originally from the North East.
Sting said: “Many people across the UK are affected by lung damage and other smoking-related illnesses, particularly in the North East where I grew up. I’m pleased to support a programme which works towards giving people the motivation and support they need to quit.”
Ailsa Rutter continued: “Fresh is extremely grateful to Sting for giving permission for his lyrics to be used in support of our campaign, to the British Lung Foundation, medical experts across the North East and to real people who live with the horrible effects of COPD every day for stepping forward to help highlight the long-term effects in a bid to encourage other smokers to quit before it’s too late.
“Quitting smoking is the best thing anyone can do for their health and people in their 30s and 40s mustn’t ignore the early warning signs of COPD, such as breathlessness.
“Anyone who would like to quit smoking should contact the NHS Smokefree Helpline on 0800 011612, or text FRESH and their postcode to 88088, they can also visit www.everybreath.tv or make an appointment to see their GP.”