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Contact: Kelli Hagen

Did You Know It Would Take 275 Fatal Plane Crashes to Match the Tragic Loss of Life Caused by Lung Disease in One Year?

Dallas, TX (Aug. 24, 2000) -- Imagine for a moment the devastation that would occur if a Boeing 747 carrying more than 400 passengers1 were to crash, leaving no survivors. Now imagine if more than five of those aircrafts crashed per week -- for an entire year. About 110,000 people would die in those disasters. Of course, you know that would never happen, but consider this sobering fact: more than 110,000 lives are lost every year to lung disease2.

The number of people affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is staggering. Millions struggle against lung disease every day to maintain "normal" levels of physical activity. What's more, COPD costs Americans about $17 billion per year in medical costs, hospitalizations, and physician visits, and it is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Whether individuals suffer from chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or asthmatic bronchitis, in far too many cases they eventually succomb to their illnesses. COPD encompasses each of these conditions which are all characterized by narrowing of the airways (bronchi) and loss of the lungs' elasticity. This airway narrowing, most often caused by smoking, develops slowly; however, early detection of COPD can help slow the progess of the disease and allow those diagnosed to live happier, more active lives.

To help make this a reality, respiratory therapists (RTs) across the United States will celebrate National Respiratory Care Week (RC Week) Sept. 10-16 by promoting early detection of COPD through routine lung function testing. Respiratory therapists regularly perform a type of lung function screeening, spirometry, that can identify early onset of COPD. Spirometry testing is used daily in doctor's offices across the country to help determine the severity of asthmatics' conditions, but thus far the test has rarely been used to detect COPD.

Dr. Thomas Petty, chairman of the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP), also champions using spirometry testing in routine check-ups, especially on smokers 45 or older, who are most at risk for developing lung disease. In fact, the NLHEP authored a spirometry statement (published in April '00 Chest and May '00 Respiratory Care Journal) that calls for all primary care practitioners to have spirometers in their offices. "The ultimate goal of the program is to make spirometry as common in the physician's office as the blood pressure cuff is today," says Petty.

This is exactly what the AARC's 50 state affiliate organizations, about 32,000 members strong, will be doing during the week of September 10. They will also be offering spirometry screenings in malls and shopping centers as well as in their hospitals and other healthcare facilities. RTs will host a variety of other events as well: walk-a-thons, "respiratory-health" fairs, tree-planting ceremonies, and open houses will be among the activities used to promote awareness of the respiratory therapist's vital role in the early detection of COPD as well as the importance of good respiratory health practices.

Helping the medical community and the public understand why respiratory therapists are so important has been an ongoing goal for AARC members. Their efforts have been bolstered by support from several physicians' groups. The American College of Chest Physicians has said that "because RTs have specialized training and experience, they play a vital role in the coordination and utilization of respiratory care services."


1 Boeing 747 statistics taken from Boeing Company website, Commercial Airplane Information Page, Boeing 747-400 Family: http://www.boeing.com/commercial/747family/

2 Test Your Lungs, Know Your Numbers; National Lung Health Education Program brochure; 1999.

The AARC is a professional membership association for respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician and assist in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with pulmonary disorders. The AARC provides educational programs to the respiratory care community and promotes the art and science of respiratory care to healthcare consumers and other healthcare professionals.