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'Invisible' Lung Disease Called A Death Sentence By Doctors

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Have you ever heard of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis? Probably not. But every year it kills just as many people as breast cancer.

But there are no marches, no ribbons, not even much research for Pulmonary Fibrosis.  There is no cure.

A Plano man hopes to change that by talking about his own diagnosis in the time he has left.

Bill Vick looks pretty healthy.  "I was fit," the 73-year-old said.  "I was training for my first triathlon. I was an age group competitive swimmer. I was a runner. I was fit. I never did smoke. I never did drugs. I had a great healthy life. I did every thing right."

Then, he cleared his throat.  "Excuse me, part of what I have," he said.

"One day, swimming, I ran a little short of breath," he continued.

"So, I went to my doctor and said, 'Hey, I'm having a problem here. I'm coughing," he said.

The doctor thought it might be asthma or COPD, and gave Vick an inhaler. But it didn't help.

In September, he went to lung specialist, who diagnosed Vick with a lung disease he'd never even heard of.

"Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. I said 'what's that?' He said, 'that's a death sentence.'"

"The median survival may be three to five years," explains Dr. Timothy Chappell.

Dr. Chappell hasn't treated Bill Vick, but he has treated others with Vick's condition.  "The most delicate imaginable sponge you have is the lung. It scars. It stiffens and that causes the symptoms that patients have which is usually, just, breathlessness."

Dr. Chappell said, the best hope for people with Pulmonary Fibrosis is a lung transplant.

Vick is walking less, but talking more about the disease.  "I call it a Ninja disease. Because it's kind of invisible and people don't know about it. They don't see it. But when it strikes you, it's a killer."

It's strikes most over 50. But nobody even knows what causes it.

"This year, there will be probably 40,000 people that die from breast cancer - a terrible disease there will be over 40,000 people that die from pulmonary fibrosis.

Vick, who's social media savvy, hopes awareness sparks research. Because he knows no one would want to walk in his shoes.

"I want to be an advocate. I want to raise awareness," he said.

Bill Vick says his symptoms started with a persistent cough that didn't go away after three months. He urges people to see a specialist if they experience that too.

"I didn't know, if you have a persistent cough for two or three months, you don't need an X-ray, you need a high resolution CT scan," he said.

"If you have GERDs (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or Acid Reflux) and a cough and you take statins, you're kind of crossing that threshold of better odds against than for," Vick said.

Statins are medications to control cholesterol.  Vick had been taking statins and medication for GERDS.

He went on the Paleo diet and stopped eating milk and wheat products. Since then, he hasn't had to take any medication for acid reflux or cholesterol.

He knows he won't be able to stop the Pulmonary Fibrosis. But he refuses to let the disease define him.

"I think I'm living with Pulmonary Fibrosis. I'm not dying of Pulmonary Fibrosis," he said.

He pointed to pictures of his family and said, "This is what matters the most right here."

Get more information from the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

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