Better Breathers Clubs Make Chronic Lung Diseases More Tolerable

Contributed by K.T. McKee

You try to catch your breath and end up coughing and coughing. You cough some more. You try not to panic, but not being able to breathe can be terrifying.

You feel alone and isolated – even with friends and loved ones nearby. You think they don’t understand you and how hard it can be to have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema. Or asthma. And it can be very scary.

I know because I was diagnosed with a form of “mild emphysema” last May from a chest x-ray, and had this diagnosis confirmed recently through a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.

Although my lung capacity appears to be great at 97 percent, I still have some sort of “obstructive lung defect” that makes it difficult to get a full breath sometimes.

Although I have never smoked, I suspect my lung disease is from being exposed to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke as a child. This is why I am so passionate about the American Lung Association’s national support group for people with chronic lung diseases known as the Better Breathers Club (BBC).

These FREE support groups can be found all over the country and now are available in Mat-Su! Thanks to a generous grant from Mat-Su Health Foundation this past summer, the Wasilla office of the American Lung Association has been busy expanding these BBCs in the Valley.

There are now four BBCs here:
Mat-Su Senior Services, the second Tuesday of every month, 10:30- 11:30 am in Activity Room A; Wasilla Senior Center, the third Thursday of every month, 12:15-1:15 pm in the Meeting Room; Mat-Su Health Services, the last Thursday of every month, 5:30-6:30 pm in the Main Conference Room on the first floor (starting March 31); and the Willow Library, the first Wednesday of every month, 10:30-11:30 am in a library conference room.
You don’t have to be a senior or otherwise frequent these facilities to attend these clubs. They are open to everyone in the community.

And we’re looking for one more good spot for another BBC here. We also are in need of volunteers who are passionate about lung health and like working with people to help us facilitate these meetings after being trained through a brief online program.

American Lung Association staff would provide full support to help these groups be as successful and enjoyable as possible.

So far, BBC members in the Valley have been enjoying peer support, educational YouTube videos, and a wide range of guest speakers, including a respiratory therapist, a radiation therapy doctor providing information on new early detection tests for lung cancer, a Geneva Woods pharmacist, and soon the owner of All About Herbs will drop by the Palmer group.

So please help us spread the word about this very worthwhile program.

For more information about BBC, please go to or give me a call at my Wasilla office of the American Lung Association in Alaska at 357-3110.

K.T. McKee is a former journalist who now serves as the Mat-Su Manager for the Wasilla office of the American Lung Association in Alaska.