Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)


Concluding Remarks at the Respiratory Rally for Research at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center on June 22nd, 2001.

By Dr. Thomas L. Petty

  I first addressed a patient care organization known as the PEP Pioneers, organized by Mary Burns of Little Company of Mary Hospital in March, 1983. The title of my presentation was, "Remember to Live". I encouraged all persons, young or old, with or without any disease or illness, to pursue life to the fullest, and to enjoy each day for what it would bring. I advised against being timid, and encouraged "age without abdication". Today, my message repeats this advice and asks everyone to remember to give.

  I attended the first rally of this type in 1985. Then, my topic was: "Humor for the Health of it". I pointed out how humor relieves tension, eases breathing, lowers blood pressure, stimulates appetite and sleep, and simply makes us feel better. All humor takes is time, and it certainly is not toxic.

  Today, I would like to make a comment about disease. A disease is an alteration in the structure or function of an organ system, which may or may not produce symptoms. By contrast, illness is the impact of a disease on the person's quality of life as a result of the symptoms, the limitations that the illness imposes, and the treatment that is required. Beyond disease and illness, there is the predicament that illness creates. Often the predicament results in pain. It is interesting that the first of the four basic truths of Buddha is, "Life is suffering". Seneca, the Greek philosopher, said, "And what will amaze you more throughout the whole of life is one must learn to die". We all know that death is a natural end of the human spirit as we know it, yet we know that it is inevitable. We are born and we die, but hopefully, we can get through life without undue suffering. When suffering comes, and can be accepted, it ceases to be suffering. It often yields to joy.

  Benjamin Franklin said, "Those things that hurt, instruct." This emphasizes the fact that because of problems, we learn and grow both mentally and spiritually. I cannot separate the two. When patients learn to face problems, they no longer dread them. As each problem is solved, life becomes enhanced. If you cannot face death, you cannot live. Death is simply the flip side of life. You cannot die if you were never born. But, once you are living, it is important to learn, to grow, and to enjoy.

  No one can exactly predict the future such as how long we will live. One of my favorite psalms, number 90, goes, "The days of our lives shall be three score and ten years. But if by reason of strength, they may be four score years". Then the psalm goes on, "And then the spirit doth takes wings and flies away." This is where "passed away" came from.

  As Jesus said to Nicodema, "Just as you hear the wind, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it will go next, so it is with the spirit." The word spirit comes from the Greek, "spirue", which literally means "breath". Thus, we have "respiration", "inspiration", and "spirometry". "Expiration" at the end of life promises the transition of the spirit in a new realm of experience. Whether or not you believe in a spiritual future, you have already spread your spirit by working, playing, loving, and living. You have extended yourself to your family, and to your friends.

  Not everyone at the rally may have had an opportunity to make a major contribution to science, music, art, literature, business, medicine, or law. But, everyone can make a special contribution which will enhance society through support of the Respiratory Research Chair and it's first recipient, Richard Casaburi, M.D. The Chair honors two great people: Alvin Grancell and Mary Burns. Both Alvin and Mary are spiritual people. Both have suffered great losses and pain, as I have. But, we have all weathered the pain, and have grown to be better people, and to make greater contributions to society. So, my plea to everyone at the rally, and to everyone who reads this newsletter, is to please make a contribution to the PERF and to the Chair which these donations will fund. Remember to live and remember to give.

  Your friend,

  Thomas Petty, MD


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Published: Jan 31 2002