Bonnie Chakravorty says she first remembers being extremely short of breath in 1973 while living in Champagne, IL.
“At the time I was living in a rural area, and there was fertilizer put out and you could smell it everywhere. I thought I was allergic to it. But after I moved to the city but I continued to have episodes, particularly when I was driving in my car and exposed to fumes from cars,” Chakravorty says. “It got so bad one day I pulled into a hospital and went to the emergency room, thinking I was having a heart attack.”
Soon after, Chakravorty says she was diagnosed with asthma in 1979.
“They prescribed me inhalers, but in the meantime through all of this, I was teaching fitness classes. I decided I had to tone it down a bit myself,” she says. “I did notice I started feeling better, but I continued to sporadically have episodes.”
She was very active during this time, riding her bicycle almost a mile to where she taught her classes.
Currently living in Tennessee, Chakravorty works full time as a professor of Health Sciences at Tennessee State University. Among other courses she teaches a course on Pathology and frequently uses Alpha-1 as an example of a genetic condition.
She says at most she smoked half a pack or less per day during her teenage years.
“My first piece of advice for other individuals with COPD is to go to pulmonary rehab. That’s a good start, particularly if you’re not used to being active,” Chakravorty says. “It’s nice because they give you good advice and help you understand how to cope with some of the feelings of shortness of breath, and teach you how to do the right exercises.”
Although when diagnosed with asthma she began taking inhalers, she noticed that she was still getting progressively worse.
Chakravorty remembers being told in 1996 she had the lungs of an 80-year-old who smoked two packs a day. This is when she was tested for Alpha-1.
“Coincidentally, I’m also a tobacco researcher, and Alpha-1 was always a footnote. We’d talk about COPD, and how a small percentage of people had a genetic condition [of Alpha-1],” she says. “Well, the doctor, pulmonologist and nurse were all there, and when they got the results back, they told me I had Alpha-1.”
“At one level I didn’t believe them. What I thought was, ‘I have the test results, I have the symptoms, I must have it. Maybe people from other ethnic groups can also have Alpha-1,’” she says.
At this time, Chakravorty was living in Boston, and was forced to move because of the cold winter weather. She was having trouble getting to her office on foot.
Today, Chakravorty wants people to know that they are not alone with their disease, and wants to get rid of the stigma of COPD.
“I continue to take care of myself and I still have a pretty high quality of life, but not without adjustments. I can’t always, and do everything I want to do. For example, I can’t teach aerobics or dance, but I want people to know I am still vibrant and active in other ways,” she says.
“You have to take it one step at a time, and don’t worry about what anybody else is doing. Try to do what you can. I try very hard to educate people about Alpha-1, and I will sometimes tell people more than what they want to hear,” she says. “But overall, it’s really up to you, on what you want to disclose. But whatever you decide stay involved and stay active.”
Chakravorty and a colleague are forming a COPD Coalition of Tennessee. If you are interested in learning more about their efforts, you can email her at: email@example.com.