BEEKMANTOWN - The simple act of breathing is one that can be taken for granted. But, for Gerald LaValley of Beekmantown, it's one he appreciates breath by breath.
LaValley suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a serious lung disease that narrows his airways, making it difficult for him to breathe. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,the disease, commonly known as COPD, causes serious, long-term disability and is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. The institute also states more than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease, yet are unaware of it.
"It's a bad disease," said LaValley. "But, some days are better than others."
LaValley was first diagnosed with COPD in 1998, at the age of 43. A few years later, his symptoms worsened enough for him to have to go out on disability from his job as an over-the-road truck driver. Now 54, LaValley's symptoms are the worst they've ever been, he said, requiring him to use an oxygen tank to breathe on a regular basis.
"I've only got about a quarter of a lung left," he said. "I drove truck most of my life and I can't do it anymore. I can still drive but I don't get around as good as I used to."
Although LaValley admits he used to smoke, he feels the hastening of his condition was caused by painting he used to do for one of his sidejobs.
"I used to paint equipment without a mask because I'm chlostrophobic," said LaValley. "I'm sure there were a lot of chemicals that got in my lungs."
LaValley said his doctors have told him there's a possibility that could have very well caused damage to his lungs.
"I know people who have smoked for a long time and they're not as bad off as I am," said LaValley.