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No easy breathe for Barry - One man's tough fight to live

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM
COPD stricken Barry Gordon at his home in Dunbar, St James.

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer


With every 10 steps he takes, he has to pump three litres of oxygen into his lungs or face possible death.
That is how 58-year-old accountant Barrington Gordon, an outpatient of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, St James, lives from day to day.

Gordon spends an average of 25 days each month at the hospital and is unable to function because he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive illness that makes it hard to breathe. "Both of my lungs are totally gone. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be ... it can be controlled," said Gordon between sharp breaths.

The former smoker, who is an accountant by profession, says he worked with Reynolds Jamaica Mines Limited, Price WaterhouseCoopers, Jamaica Nutritional Holding Limited and Peat Marwick in his heyday.

Costly treatments

On a visit to Gordon's house in Dunbar, St James - where he lives alone - three empty cylinders that carry a combined total of 1,000 cubic metres of oxygen stood in one corner of the room.

Each cylinder cost $2,600 and he uses three each week, in addition to treatments of nebulisation, Spiriva and Symbicort. Gordon estimates that he spends $45,000 per month on life-saving medications.

Outside of that expenditure, Gordon has to depend on the under-pressure and underfinanced public-health system. Right now he is in need of a portable oxygen tank that produces its own supply.

"There are days when I go to the hospital and have to be accommodated in the accident and emergency (A&E) or triage area, because the ninth floor (medical) has no beds for me," Gordon told
The Sunday Gleaner

But being admitted to A&E does not automatically mean he gets treatment on time. "It's not set up for people with my condition," Gordon said as he pointed out that he had spent up to nine days in A&E in the past.

Although extremely sick, Gordon remains feisty. He believes there is a real need for a facility providing treatment for people with pulmonary diseases. "Just like heart and cancer patients," he says.

Persons in St James and surrounding parishes are not diagnosed with COPD, he said, until it is in an advanced state owing to the lack of diagnostic equipment in the western end of the island.

Gordon could not be more accurate, as Senior Medical Officer at the National Chest Hospital, Dr Terry Baker, agrees that screening for COPD needs to be started earlier.

"Anybody who has any of the risk factors, including being a smoker, is exposed to smoking, involved in coal burning, using wood-fire indoors or resides in heavily polluted areas should be tested," said Dr Baker.

According to Dr Baker, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, and the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030 it will be in third position.

In 2007, it was estimated that the direct and indirect cost of COPD to the United States was US$42 billion.

However, Dr Baker said there is hope for people with the disease: "It is preventable and treatable. We can significantly slow its progression if found in the early stages."

She said anyone over the age of 40 who has any of the risk factors, including a past history of cigarette smoking, shortness of breath and persistent cough, should consider a diagnosis of COPD and should be seen by a physician.