Medicine helps him breathe better
64-year-old did not realise how serious his pulmonary condition was until he collapsed from breathing difficulties
Doing simple household chores leaves him breathless.
That's because Mr Hanafi Mohammad Noor suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
"I often get breathless when I do household chores like sweeping the floor or hanging my laundry," the 64-year-old told The New Paper.
COPD is an umbrella term that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, said Adjunct Assistant Professor Tan Tze Lee, a family physician at The Edinburgh Clinic and president of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Association of Singapore.
"It is a respiratory disease that can limit airflow in the lungs and cause breathing difficulties," he said.
The Ministry of Health says it is the 10th leading cause of death in Singapore.
Speaking to TNP in his one-room flat in Pipit Road last Thursday, Mr Hanafi spoke about how his life has been affected by the disease.
"As a former interior designer, I worked on projects around the world. Now, I can't work and I can't even walk short distances without having to rest."
The father of six said he started smoking when he was only 13.
"Back then, if you don't smoke, you were not a gentleman," he said, smiling ruefully.
Describing himself as a chain-smoker, he would smoke two to three packs of cigarettes a day.
"I needed cigarettes for inspiration when I was working," he said.
Unfortunately, those sticks of inspiration came at a heavy price.
Although he was diagnosed with COPD in 2002, he had been experiencing shortness of breath for a long time before that.
He stopped working full-time and became a freelance interior designer in 1997 because his breathing difficulties made it difficult for him to keep up with his work.
"Back then, I attributed it to the fact that I was a smoker and that I was just getting old. Plus, I didn't want to go to the doctor because I thought I could manage my own health," he said.
In 2002, he suddenly quit smoking after a bout of fever that left him too weak to go out of the house for four days.
He said: "During those four days, not once did I look for a cigarette.
"So I told myself that since I did not need to smoke when I was sick, I actually didn't need to smoke."
Unfortunately, his health problems did not end there.
Later that year, both his legs swelled up so badly that he could not wear his shoes.
Following his daughter's advice, he went to the hospital and was put through "all sorts of tests".
He was diagnosed with COPD after doing a spirometry test, which measures how well the lungs function.
He never found out the cause of the leg swelling and it did not occur again, but he was left with a disease that he did not know much about. He said he was given an inhaler and sent home.
"I just thought it was something like asthma," he said, so he would use the inhaler only when his breathing was bad.
One day, in 2013, he had breathing difficulties and collapsed while at his brother's house. He was taken to the National University Hospital in an ambulance.
"When I was hospitalised, a COPD case manager gave me a thorough lesson on COPD," he said.
Every morning, he takes three types of medicine - Nasonex, Relvar Ellipta and Spiriva - to help him breathe more easily. He also carries a Salbutamol inhaler.
The medications help prevent another major "lung attack", which refers to a sudden worsening of a patient's COPD.
Prof Tan said that each time an attack occurs, the patient's lung function worsens.
Mr Hanafi said he tries to relax by fishing and singing karaoke with his wife.
When asked if he regretted smoking when he was younger, he replied: "I don't have any regrets. Whatever happened, has happened, life has to go on. Now, I want people to know about this disease and raise awareness about it."
Smoking is No. 1 cause of COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the 10th leading cause of death in Singapore, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.
In Singapore, there are almost 88,000 people who suffer from COPD, said Adjunct Assistant Professor Tan Tze Lee, a family physician at The Edinburgh Clinic.
He expects the number of people suffering from COPD to grow.
"These numbers are expected to grow with the increasing numbers of heavy smokers here in Singapore," said Prof Tan, who is also president of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Association of Singapore.
The US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.
There is no cure, but there are treatments to slow the progress of the disease.
A patient with copd has less air flowing in and out of the lungs because his lungs have become less elastic.
The disease causes coughing, which produces a large amount of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
Although breathing in secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes or dust can contribute to COPD, the No. 1 cause of COPD is smoking, said the institute.
Prof Tan said: "Judging from the patients I've seen over the years, if you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years, you would roughly have a 50 per cent chance of getting COPD.
"Heavy smokers - those who have been smoking for more than 10 years - are at higher risk."
Although COPD is often confused with asthma, COPD patients are usually older as the onset of the disease usually occurs when a patient is above 40.
He added: "Asthmatics also usually have a history of allergies, and the condition tends to run in families. COPD patients do not usually have associated allergies."