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Breathe easy: Doctors push for better access to supplemental oxygen


Two years ago, Shelly Bruce suddenly found it harder to breathe.

"I've had asthma all my life," she said. "I'd been complaining to my doctors that I thought my asthma was getting worse - they eventually sent me to a pulmonologist and they discovered I had a lung disease."

Bruce was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable disease that causes scarring in the lungs, making breathing progressively more difficult.

She now requires extra oxygen around the clock.

"When you can't breathe, you're exhausted all the time," she says, "In my day, I have to decide what's important. What I want to do and what needs to be done."

The disease kills around 2,500 Canadians every year.

Most patients eventually require supplemental oxygen, but some doctors say it takes too long for them to get it.

"The trouble is getting access to oxygen and the number of tests required in order to get the oxygen funded," said Dr. Charlene Fell, a Calgary respirologist, "That builds a little bit of delay into patients being able to start oxygen once their physicians say it's recommended for them."

Doctors say oxygen doesn't treat the condition but it makes people suffering from pulmonary fibrosis more comfortable.

In order to qualify for the government-funded therapy, people need to have consistently low levels of oxygen in their bloodstream, which some say isn't fair.

"If you see a patient in the clinic room and their oxygen level is fine, that doesn't necessarily mean they won't benefit because their oxygen levels go down when they exert themselves, " said Fell.

"What we're trying to do here is raise awareness among the public and the politicians and the policy makers - this is a really important issue for our patients."

Around 30,000 Canadians suffer from pulmonary fibrosis and doctors say up to 20 per cent may not be getting the extra oxygen they need. Top Stories

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