Pulmonary fibrosis: Lung disease kills as many as breast cancer | Federal Way woman starts support group

Federal Way resident Carole Reaney wants to start a support group for pulmonary fibrosis in South King County. - Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror
Federal Way resident Carole Reaney wants to start a support group for pulmonary fibrosis in South King County.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

In the mid-1990s, Carole Reaney suffered from bronchitis and a constant cough in the wintertime.

Medications and breathing treatments couldn't cure the ailment. The dry hacking cough was so commonplace that it became a family joke. If the kids needed to find Reaney in the store, for example, they would "listen for mom's cough."

"It just wasn't getting any better," said Reaney, 69, a Federal Way resident.

She eventually underwent a lung biopsy. In August 2011, Reaney was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. She was given three years to live.

Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when lung tissue is damaged and scarred. This incurable disease hinders the ability to breathe as the scar tissue thickens.

The disease kills as many people as breast cancer. According to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, an average of 40,000 people die in the U.S. every year from the disease.

Causes for the disease are often unknown, but can include autoimmune disorders, genetic inheritance, or exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Among the more high-profile news stories of pulmonary fibrosis involve first responders from the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. Several responders are suffering from respiratory disorders caused by exposure to toxic substances during cleanup and recovery at the crash site.

Back in Federal Way, Reaney carts around an oxygen tank with a 37-foot plastic tube connected to her nose. She is unsure how she developed pulmonary fibrosis, and said she only smoked cigarettes for a short spell in the 1970s. One possible cause could be linked to a condo where she lived in the 1990s. Upon moving, she discovered extensive mold throughout the residence.

Reaney is still on a waiting list for a lung transplant that will extend her life a few more years. At any moment, the phone could ring with news of an available transplant. Her husband, Roger, has a suitcase packed and ready to go.

In the meantime, Reaney wants to start a pulmonary fibrosis support group in the Federal Way area.

"I'm trying to get more people aware of this disease because it kills as many people as breast cancer," she said. "A lot of people don't know they have it."

Awareness event

Reaney is planning an awareness event and fundraiser for pulmonary fibrosis in October at the Federal Way Regional Library, 34200 1st Ave. S. Time and date will be announced. The event will feature information, raffle prizes and more. All proceeds will go toward the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. To learn more, contact (253) 661-9678.


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