FOX Medical Team: Struggling to breathe -

FOX Medical Team: Struggling to breathe

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Nikita Terry is a regular at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Leaning against the portable oxygen tank, she takes everywhere.

53 years old, asking herself the same questions:

"How did I get right here, how did I get to this part?"

Terry says she's been smoking 40 years, since she was ten years old.

Look back at photos, there's her lighter and pack of cigarette. She smoked two packs a day.

"It's a stress release. You know how some people eat when they're want to relieve stress, I smoke. And it relaxes me," says Terry.

Now, in midlife - she's rarely without her oxygen, the tube snaking across her living room floor. Several years back, she started having attacks, where she couldn't breathe.

"It's literally like you're leaving here. When you can't get no air in your lungs, it's like somebody just literally got your around the neck and is just choking the life out of you,” says the grandmother.

Doctor have not only diagnosed Terry with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD , but heart failure,too.

"I can't get upset because when my I get upset, my heart goes tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh. It goes to beating real, real fast. And I'm literally passing out,"says Terry.

Dr. Marilyn Foreman and her colleagues at Morehouse School of Medicine, have studied the connection between COPD and heart failure. Dr. Foreman says smoking is the leading cause of COPD in the US , and they're seeing it in more and more women like Nikita Terry.

"COPD takes a long time to occur, so it takes a couple of decades. So, as men got smarter and stopped smoking women, women were increasingly smoking. And now women have caught up with men," says Dr. Foreman.

The pulmonary disease physician says if you smoke, stop as soon as possible, to preserve the lung function you have left,becasuse COPD is irreversible. Once the damage is done, it's done. For Terry, it hasn't been that simple.

"I regret a lot about this smoking. About where my life is now," says Terry.

Nikita Terry wants to share her story, knowing what people might think. Because this is where smoking has brought her.

"It's not worth it. A cigarette? It's not worth the agony. It's not worth the pain that you bring to your life. It's really pain."

In some people. COPD is genetic. It can be triggered by chronic exposure to dust or chemicals on the job. And you can get COPD from secondhand smoke. Dr. Foreman insists if you have COPD, you have to be diligent about getting your flu and pneumonia vaccinations.

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