Leonard Nimoy, known primarily for his role as Mr. Spock in the breakthrough science fiction television show Star Trek, passed away in late February, and the show’s fans are still mourning his passing worldwide. The actor died due to a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and during his years battling the disease, he helped to raise awareness about COPD causes and risk factors.
According to the COPD Foundation, COPD is a disease that slowly destroys the lungs, and there are several forms of the disease such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis and refractory asthma. There are also several factors that can cause the onset of the disease, but the primary risk factor is smoking.
Despite quitting smoking over 30 years ago, Nimoy was too late in preventing COPD. As Nimoy learned, the effect of smoking continues to cause severe damage to the lungs even after a person stops smoking, which is why he and countless others have developed the disease even decades after quitting.
The COPD Foundation estimates that almost 24 million people in the United States are affected by COPD symptoms, however, more than half of these individuals do not know they have the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no way to cure COPD, and as a result, the most patients can do is take medication that mitigates symptoms and marginally increases lifespan. Nothing, however, can halt the progression of the disease. Despite the fact that Nimoy was on medication and had quit smoking, his condition got worse over time and it became more and more difficult for him to breathe.
COPD increases the risk for developing other respiratory infections like pneumonia as well. These kinds of infections are not usually dangerous for healthy lungs, but can be difficult for weak lungs affected by COPD to overcome. Smoking can compromise the lungs just as pollutants harm cilia. Cilia are small, hair-like fibers that work together to clean the lungs and prevent mucus and dust from gathering. When the cilia do not work properly, the lungs become more exposed and vulnerable to respiratory infections.
After he received his COPD diagnosis, Nimoy warned his fans through Twitter to quit smoking. “I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP,” he tweeted. Though the famous “Dr. Spock” is now deceased, he is still remembered by the world over not only for his contributions to television and film, but also for his steadfast advocacy for COPD.