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Special Feature: COPD Awareness: Ted Koppel is keynote speaker at AARC International Congress November 9-12, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana (video)

By Emmanuel Rivera, RRT
Fri, 08 Nov 2019

(L-R) Ted Koppel and Grace Anne Dorney (Courtesy of CBS This Morning)

November 7, 2019, New Orleans, Louisiana

Ted Koppel, the award-winning journalist, is renowned for his command of facts, incisive interviewing skills and unfailing radar for pomposity and evasion.

He was the anchor of the program Nightline from 1980-2005 and told stories of people and events that helped shape recent history. From the Iran hostage crisis to the end of apartheid in South Africa, the continuing story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and later introducing us to pivotal figures like Nelson Mandela, Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, rogues like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Oliver North, and the unforgettable ALS patient Morrie Schwartz, he was America’s eyes and ears.

Former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos talks with Ted Koppel (Hawaii, April 1986)

For twenty years before Nightline, he was a broadcast journalist and news anchor for ABC News.

He covered the civil rights movement, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Nothing, however, could have prepared him for a difficult topic that affects millions—a disease that would strike close to home.

It is called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

COPD, for short.

His college sweetheart and wife Grace Anne Dorney was diagnosed with COPD in 2001 and was given a few years to live.

In an interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King (November 20, 2017), the Koppels shed light on living with COPD and how they first got the news.

Said Grace Anne, “I couldn’t breathe. I literally could not walk across a space like this room without stopping to catch my breath. I couldn’t sleep without pillows propped up behind my back. I couldn’t walk a few steps. I thought I had a rare disease. It was a shock for me to find out that my disease is so common. It’s not curable and it is not reversible. We have no medication to stop its progress. It is, however, treatable. I was told if I lost 10 pounds I’d feel like a new woman. I thought I had a rare disease.”

Said Ted, “After asking her physician how much time she had, we were told we had about 3-5 years, and we needed to make end-of-life preparations. That night, we just held each other all night long and sobbed. It was devastating. Doctors don’t diagnose it as quickly as they should. Then, they tell people they have an incurable disease and only have a few years. People already walk in the doctor’s office depressed and wonder after how they’re going to survive.”

Check out this video on YouTube courtesy of CBS This Morning:

In this video, the Koppels emphasized the need for increased access to pulmonary rehabilitation and early screening.

“COPD has an image problem,” says Ted Koppel, Senior Contributor to CBS Sunday Morning.

“I call it the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases,” says Grace Anne, “because ‘It don’t get no respect.’”

“If they smoked, COPD sufferers are often blamed for their disease. But while smoking is the single most significant cause of COPD, often other factors such as pollution or work environment are the contributing causes. And while 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease and another 10 to 15 million may have COPD but have not yet been diagnosed, awareness of the disease is low.”

Of note, pulmonary function testing is done by registered respiratory therapists and respiratory care practitioners.

Diagnosis is done by pulmonologists (lung specialists) and treatment is facilitated by pulmonary rehabilitation/COPD advocates and/or nurses.

Here are some sobering statistics given by the Center for Disease Control:

Now, eighteen years after the diagnosis and treatment, Ted and Grace Koppel speak with hope and encouragement that while the disease is not curable, with proper assessment and pulmonary rehabilitation, COPD can be treated, and its progress managed.

Anyone with symptoms of regular cough, shortness of breath, wheezing or a history of smoking or an occupation with exposure to fumes, dust or vapors are encouraged to see their physician and be screened as soon as possible.

Ted Koppel spoke about the reason he and his wife decided to do this story in a recent press release from the U.S. COPD Coalition:

“We both believe that empowering patients and educating the public is vital. This is key to getting support for the COPD National Action Plan both in the COPD community, in the public at large, in the halls of our elected officials. This is also an opportunity to reach millions of viewers and introduce them to Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease and the COPD National Action Plan.”

Photo taken at Nightline ABC studio (courtesy of Kyle Gibson, circa 1983)
(Background L-R) the late Minister of Information Gregorio Cendaña and ABC Nightline producers
(Foreground L-R) my late father Hermie Rivera shakes hands with his friend Mr. Ted Koppel

A note of thanks…On behalf of our fellow respiratory therapists, multidisciplinary teammates at Washington Hospital Healthcare System (Fremont, California), the California Society for Respiratory Care and the American Association for Respiratory Care, we welcome Grace Anne Dorney and Ted Koppel to the International Congress 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. We are grateful for your invaluable support and for being patient advocates for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to increase awareness of COPD.


Emmanuel Rivera, BS, RRT-NPS
Rudy Teodosio, BSRC, RRT-NPS
Thomas Macasaet, RCP
Raul Rodriguez, RRT

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