• Walden Pond on High
  • By: Thomas L. Petty, M.D. and Ron Peterson
  • Henry David Thoreau's classic and yet poignant story of his sanctuary at Walden Pond prompts this story. Thoreau went to Walden Pond to seek nature. After vividly describing the beauty of Walden Pond, Thoreau died of tuberculosis at the age of 42. Today a much more common pulmonary disease is COPD. Although COPD is most commonly thought of as tobacco-related chronic and asthmatic bronchitis, almost all patients with COPD have a substantial emphysema component. It is emphysema that results in loss of elastic recoil, hyperinflation, air trapping, dyspnea and disability. COPD is now the only disease in the top ten that is increasing in prevalence and mortality. In 2003, 125,00 people in the US will die of COPD, rising to the fourth most common cause of death. More women than men died of COPD in 2000.
  • Ron Peterson began smoking at age 13 and rapidly became addicted. In spite of cough and some shortness of breath, he loved living in the Rocky Mountains. In his early 40's, he and some of his engineer friends built a small cabin near the old mining town of Idaho Springs, Colorado, about 40 miles west of Denver. Ron had purchased an old mining claim at 9,000 feet and wanted to live in an area far from the air pollution of cities, and the complexities of modern society. But he had to abandon his plan in his early 40's when rapidly progressive emphysema, due to smoking, made it impossible for him to live at such a high altitude.
  • Rapid debilitation followed and Ron lost his job due to progressive exercise intolerance. By age 50, he was receiving social security disability. Ambulatory oxygen and an exercise program during a pulmonary rehabilitation program helped him at first, but later progressive physiological impairment overtook him. He finally quit smoking at age 51 when he coughed so hard he blacked out after a single puff of cigarette smoke. Miraculously, he became a candidate for lung transplantation, which was successfully accomplished at the end of 2000. Now Ron is living happily in an observatory at a 9,000-foot elevation. He enjoys life and works with teens about smoking. He wants teens that have made the mistake of starting to smoke cigarettes convince other teens not to smoke or to quit. Ron has made a powerful tape, Teen Smokers Speak Out, which is being widely distributed and is available for viewing and downloading on the Internet at http://www.geocities.com/ronaldpeterson.geo
  • While Thoreau went to Walden Pond to observe nature, Ron went to the Rocky Mountains and his Observatory to live. The following is Ron's story, which explains his zest for living.
  • 8-7-02: Helping others to avoid becoming addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes has been the focus of my life for 5 years. I know first-hand how harmful cigarettes can be to your lungs and am alive only because of the miracle of lung transplantation. Unfortunately, there are not enough donor lungs available and only about 1 in 2000 who need a lung transplant receives it; the other 1,999 die. As I continue living, my lung disease peers die. It has been my experience, as I became acquainted with the many stages of lung disease, from pre-diagnosis of emphysema to post transplant care, that a great many very talented health professionals are in place to care for us after we contract lung disease. These professionals are trying to prevent us from contracting lung disease in the United States by preventing us from starting to smoke. They are very successful (about half as many youth in the US smoke as in the rest of the world), but are hampered by lack of funding. The vast majority of the money from the tobacco settlement (about $265 Billion) is being spent for non-tobacco prevention purposes. I have chosen to do what I can to pay back society for my lung transplant by promoting youth tobacco prevention globally. It does not seem fair to me that just because a youth happens to have been born elsewhere, they are not told the dangers of smoking cigarettes, how addictive the nicotine in the cigarettes is, and the health dangers associated with tobacco addiction. I created a non-profit organization called Prevention Video Corporation (PVC) in 1997. Those who are involved in the organization are mostly lung disease patients who have contracted their disease from smoking cigarettes. PVC has created three videos, which are designed to prevent youth smoking initiation. Over 1000 copies have been distributed in the US. The third video features addicted teen smokers describing their experiences related to smoking to younger non-smokers. Early indications show this video technique is effective and many state tobacco prevention programs are using it. PVC has also initiated a program to reward pre teens for not smoking. Youth go by Internet to the PC site, download a "statement of non-smoking behavior", sign it, and submit it for their reward. They can also submit it to PVC for a smoke free ID tag that has their name and number of years of smoke free behavior. They may also take the statement to participating merchants who give free or reduced prices for products.
  • 9-29-02: As I write these words in September of 2002, the outlook for the prevention of youth cigarette smoking globally is bleak. The tobacco companies have become partners with every international organization promoting cigarette prevention that we have located on the Internet. The prevention organizations have accepted the financial assistance of the tobacco companies because public funding is unavailable. The tobacco companies have invested in prevention organizations so they will have control over the activities of the organizations. Youths continue to initiate cigarette smoking, and become addicted to the nicotine. They are unable to quit and eventually contract any one of a variety of fatal diseases and die prematurely. I do not pretend to know at this point what action to take to break this illogical cycle of behavior but am committed to continuing to try to do so, without tobacco company assistance, as long as God gives me life. This article is intended to describe how we became successful at eliminating what I consider to be the biggest contradiction of our age.
  • 2-10-03: Our philosophy in early 2003 has now expanded to include a smoking prevention effort, where PVC members attempt to connect teens that have a burning desire to help their peers to never start smoking, or assist those who have started to quit. We feel these teens, helping each other with a smoking issues program, will be most effective. We are pleased to be helping to hook up the teens and to letting them run with it as they see fit.
  • 4-9-03: We are currently creating a 4th prevention video which is designed to not only prevent youth from starting to smoke cigarettes but also attempts to motivate youth to help their peers to also never start or quit smoking.
  • Ron Peterson
  • Congratulations Ron on your determination and your hard work! We wish you great success. Ron's goal is to climb all 52 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado with his transplanted lung!
  • Is there anything new in our fight to help folks quit smoking?
  • Yes! At the recent annual CSPR (California Society for Pulmonary Rehabilitation) in Sacramento, we heard an exciting talk by David Sachs, MD. Dr. Sachs is internationally renowned in the field of smoking cessation. He believes that no one should suffer from withdrawal symptoms! Would you go along with that? And how can that be accomplished? By providing pharmacological treatment for every patient trying to quit! We now feel that tobacco dependence is NOT a habit; it is a serious chronic medical disease, like asthma for instance. It is a life-threatening illness that can require long-term medical management.
  • Did you know that nicotine is the best antidepressant around? It also is a powerful cognitive function booster. What does that mean? It means if you are in a highly innovative job, such as trying to develop new computer programs, those cigarettes help keep you alert and on a sharp edge. Nicotine increases memory, decreases appetite, increases intellectual skills, increases problem solving, decreases anxiety, increases energy and increases motivation. Wow. No wonder it is so hard to quit, even without the very addictive nature of cigarettes! That's why some people find that chomping on a 4-mg. stick of Nicorette gum can be so helpful at times of stress. Incidentally, we used to preach that Nicorette gum should not be used longer than 6 months and that it was dangerous to use it in combination with the patch. Not so, says Dr. Sachs, basing his response on careful research.
  • There just isn't room to go on with all the new information available. Would you like some more facts on this subject next month? Would you like to see how a doctor screens for the degree of addiction? Would you like the names of the best medications for treatment? Let us hear from you!

  • Do you have a question about respiratory disease that has been bothering you? If so, feel free to write and ask us, either through our web site or by mail. We answer all of your letters.