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Debbie Daro has completely changed her lifestyle since she was unofficially diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2013.

“I was a smoker, and I resigned myself to being that person who could not quit,” Daro said. “What I didn’t understand at the time was that with a little bit of the right help I could move on and improve my life.”

Daro quit smoking 2 years later after a visit to the pulmonologist that resulted in what she considers her official diagnosis. 

Incorporating exercise into her daily life was the second lifestyle change Daro made. Exercise helped Daro build muscle and gain the strength to be physically independent. Before exercising, Daro said the weight was “just melting off.”

“Being able to move at all was the first challenge,” Daro laughed. “It sounds silly, but then I became a big gym nut for a while.”

Daro is a State Advocacy Captain in New Jersey for the COPD Foundation.

The COPD Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with COPD. Daro wants to help people with COPD the same way others helped her.

“When you explain to someone that there is life after COPD and it’s not a death sentence, it helps them to hear from someone who’s living it,” Daro said.

She remembers feeling “dazed and confused” after her diagnosis. She didn’t know what to do until she stumbled upon COPD forums on her own.

“When I was kind of lost in the woods, there were other advocates out there who took me under their wing, and I want to be there for somebody else,” she said.

Daro’s most important message to people who don’t have COPD is to move past the stigma of smoking and treat it like other addictions are treated. She is a proponent of creating more widespread and accessible tobacco cessation resources.

“Don’t blame people and dismiss their disease because they were smokers,” Daro said. “Let’s focus on figuring out how to help people.”

Daro’s life does have some limitations, but she has so much gratitude for what she does have.

“I miss gardening. I miss the beach. But I’m fully functional. I enjoy being with family and friends, going out to dinner,” Daro said. “Little things, you know? Life changes so you start to enjoy the little things a little bit more.”

Debbie Daro is 66, from New Jersey, and an active advocate in the COPD community. She enjoys spending quality time with her loved ones. She loves to hit the gym and exercise. You can find her COPD Foundation profile here.