Photo by CHRISTOPHER BERKEY
LAWRENCEVILLE -- For country songstress Patty Loveless, encouraging others to get screened for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- a serious condition that affects a person's ability to breathe -- is personal.
Loveless' sister Dottie, who encouraged the Grammy Award winner to pursue music, died from emphysema, one of two types of COPD, in 1996 at the age of 48.
COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death for Americans and kills more people every year than breast cancer and diabetes combined.
"I had no idea what this disease was and how debilitating it is," Loveless said. "The people that it's affecting, they're saying like 24 million people in America are possibly walking around with a form of this disease and only half know it."
Through her work with DRIVE4COPD, a public health initiative to screen as many Americans at risk for COPD as possible, Loveless hopes to change that startling statistic. The Atlanta resident will perform a free concert today at Discover Mills Mall in an effort to encourage Gwinnett residents and those in the surrounding area to come out and get screened for COPD.
"I've seen first-hand what it can do to a person's body, watching my sister gasp for every breath, raising herself up out of bed to just take a breath and at one time remembering her being so full of life and knowing what she used to do," Loveless said. "She was an amazing dancer and an amazing singer. It just broke my heart to see her gasp for every breath.
"That was hard," Loveless said. "I'm 53 years old and it just really hurt to see her so young, to not be able to make it from her bedroom into the kitchen without holding onto the walls, the counter, the kitchen cabinet, that's how bad it can get."
Loveless is engaging in a friendly competition with NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Danica Patrick, Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner and professional football player Michael Strahan for the Great American Screen Off -- each of the celebrities are in different cities trying to get as many screened as possible.
"I'm hoping Atlanta beats them out," Loveless laughed. "We've got a long way to go trying to beat Danica out, I have to say."
Free screenings will be offered from noon to 8:30 p.m. today and Loveless, who penned the DRIVE4COPD campaign song "Drive," will perform at 6.
For those who can't attend today's event, Loveless encourages visiting www.drive4copd.com to take a five-question screener.
"It only takes you like a few minutes and the results, you can print them out and take them to your doctor if you feel the need," she said. "I wish that I had had more knowledge about this disease to where that maybe at least I could have been able to encourage my sister to seek treatment, early treatment, and we might have had her around with us a lot longer rather than her dying at such an early age."