Q&A with Edna Shattuck, RN (Emeritus), COPD Patient and Advocate in Washington, D.C.
Edna Shattuck is a retired nurse who specialized in respiratory care, and is currently involved in activities that raise awareness of COPD. She received an RN degree and credentials as an RNA (Registered Nurse Anesthetist) at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, and later become an RRT (Registered Respiratory Therapist) while at Children's Hospital, Boston. After a blended career in nursing and respiratory therapy, Edna helps the COPD community through presentations to patients and healthcare professionals, media interviews and meetings on Capital Hill with congressional leaders to encourage their support for more funding for COPD research. What does she like most? "Being told that I've made a difference in someone's life."
Q: What motivated you to become a nurse?
A: My motivation came as the result of a friendship with a nurse (26 years my senior) who was caring for a terminally ill family member when I was in high school. She taught me the importance of being a nurse and what it would take, scholastically and emotionally, for me to become one. The more time I spent with her, the more she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. At 93, she remains a dear friend and an inspiration.
Q: Why did you focus on respiratory care?
A: Respiratory care had to have been my destiny. My mother was a smoker and filled our apartment with smoke and overflowing ashtrays; I had asthma as a young child and remembered how frightening it was to struggle through an attack; and I recall visiting my grandmother who was being treated in a TB sanatorium and not knowing why I could only wave to her through a window and couldn't snuggle up in her lap.
I could write volumes about those early years and am convinced that they left me with an imprint to help people with respiratory diseases work through their fears and understand their conditions.
Q: Can you talk about the nursing facilities where you worked?
A: After tenures at Beth Israel and Children's, I became Chief Respiratory Therapist at Boston University Medical where I had the pleasure and good fortune to work with Dr. Gordon Snider, a mentor to so many and one of my personal heroes.
When I relocated to San Francisco, I managed the Pulmonary Function Laboratory at Mt. Zion Hospital and later held positions as Chief Respiratory Therapist at St. Mary's Hospital and the Ralph K. Davies Medical Center.
In the 1980s, I began a second career in Environmental Health and Safety, marketing software programs to the medical directors of major corporations nationwide and, before retiring a few years ago, I came full circle by marketing a very successful smoking cessation program to federal, state and local governments, unions and healthcare systems.
Q: What types of patients/diagnoses did you encounter most frequently?
A: During my clinical career, I most often cared for patients with COPD, lung cancer, sarcoidosis, pneumonia, asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Q: Can you talk about the outpatient pulmonary rehab program you helped to found?
A: While at Davies, my Medical Director, Dr. Abraham Aronow, and I began to piece together the components for an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program. The objectives of the program were to educate patients about their conditions and medications, provide the tools to stay healthy when they returned home and thereby, reduce their readmissions.
Being a multi-disciplinary endeavor, other members of the healthcare team came together. A physical therapist got participants more flexible and stronger through stretching, walking ‘laps' in the corridors and trekking up and down stairwells instilling the importance of exercise and movement; an occupational therapist provided techniques to better manage activities of daily living, and a dietician discussed the importance of hydration and sound nutrition. Equally important was time spent discussing the emotional issues our patients and their families faced. Learning about and from each other was a valuable lesson for all of us.
In 1975, the companion educational guide that I wrote for our program was published by J. B. Lippincott and available to physicians nationwide for distribution to their patients.
Q: When were you first diagnosed with COPD? What was your reaction?
A: About ten years ago, I began having difficulty breathing while doing things that I never thought twice about. I had to stop and gasp for air while walking to lunch with colleagues, to carry bags of groceries up stairs, pull a carry-on through an airport or drag the trash bin out to the curb. Of all the things that became more and more difficult, the worst was when walking my dog was no longer a pleasure, but a struggle.
I finally saw a pulmonologist while experiencing a respiratory infection (which was actually an exacerbation) that was so bad I thought I wasn't going to make it. No one had to tell me what was wrong—I already knew it was COPD. My diagnosis was confirmed through pulmonary function testing and a CAT Scan. From that time on, I was determined "to practice what I preached." I enrolled in a pulmonary rehabilitation program and have continued on in maintenance mode ever since, and I walk my dog everyday.
Q: Can you talk about the awareness work you do now?
A: With an introduction to the COPD Foundation ( http://www.copdfoundation.org/ ), I became involved as a patient advocate to help increase awareness of COPD.
Over the years, I've made presentations to patient and professional groups; fulfilled numerous requests for radio, print and television interviews; been featured in an educational video produced by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute NIH ( www.learnaboutcopd.org ), and in Web-based publications including www.womenshealth.gov .
I've also taken part in desk-side briefings with health editors of women's magazines, including The Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle, to help them educate their readers about COPD, a disease that has typically been associated with men.
Most recently, I participated in meetings on Capital Hill with congressional leaders to encourage their support for more funding for COPD research.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I truly enjoy being an educator. Whether addressing an audience (of one or one hundred), seeing heads nod and having questions asked, sharing my story, or writing an article, I know that someone has learned something new—something that could have a positive impact on their health or the health of a friend or family member.
What I dislike is:
1. Knowing that women comprise 20% of the world's more than 1 billion smokers. While smoking rates among men have peaked and are declining, there are now more women smokers than men and those rates continue to rise.
2. Almost 50 years after the landmark The 1964 Report on Smoking and Health, Regina Benjamin, MD, United States Surgeon General, released a new report on March 9, 2012. According to the report, every day in the US, more than 1,200 people die from smoking related causes. And 3,800 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette. Of these replacement smokers, 1,000 will become daily smokers.
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects? Are there any projects that you would like to be involved with?
A: I'm participating, as a patient, in the SPIROMICS (Subpopulation and Intermediate Outcome Measures in COPD) Study, initiated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) along with several universities contracted as study sites. This study will help define the different subsets (or groups) of COPD and their similarity in response to certain treatments bringing us a step closer to personalized medicine and closer to individualizing treatment for those with COPD.
I would welcome an opportunity to be involved with pulmonary related projects or studies that are educational in nature. Having been a nurse and a respiratory therapist who is living with COPD gives me a unique perspective, and credibility with patients and health professionals.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: What I like most is being told that I've made a difference in someone's life.
Q: Do you feel that the role of nurses has changed over recent years?
A: It most definitely has changed.
Contemporary nursing practice requires nurses to be involved in complex decision-making in a range of environments for a variety of purposes. The decisions that nurses make in their daily practices include those related to clinical interventions and their effectiveness; unit/facility/corporate policies and protocols; communication; role relationships among health personnel; delegation among nurses and to other healthcare providers; and expansions to scopes of practice, as well as delivery and management.
The guiding principle for all decision-making in nursing, irrespective of its nature and purpose, is, and has been, to achieve the best health outcomes for patients.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: Becoming a healthcare professional has taught me so much more than medicine. Life lessons such as the importance of teamwork, creativity and compassion have become part of my DNA. It's taught me to understand that while sometimes its not obvious, "change is good" and that new opportunities offer new challenges that are meant for me to conquer.
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