Business owner, Ironman, marathon runner and father-to-four, Russell, 50, Brisbane, was diagnosed with chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder (COPD) almost five years ago.
Given his disease has reduced his lung capacity to 22 per cent, placing him at high-risk for contracting pneumonia, he is therefore eligible to receive the free pneumococcal vaccination that protects him against a bacterial form of the infection.
During a trip to America in 2014, Russell contracted viral pneumonia, for which there is no vaccination, and transmitted the infection to his wife, Leanne.
This is his story.
“My wife, Leanne and I visited the US in January, 2014. During the last week of our trip, we both started to feel unwell,” Russell said.
“As soon as we returned to Australia, we visited our GP, who referred us to hospital for X-rays.
“Both Leanne and I were subsequently diagnosed with viral pneumonia,” said Russell.
According to Leanne, she was extremely rundown prior to their holiday.
“During our time overseas, I became increasingly ill, and was unable to participate in outings and attend pre-organised events,” said Leanne.
Russell and Leanne were sick for approximately five weeks. While Leanne was bedridden upon her return to Australia, fortunately Russell’s bout of pneumonia was not as serious as his wife’s.
“I was diagnosed with COPD more than five years ago and I live with a lung capacity that fluctuates between 22-30 per cent. This puts me at an increased risk of developing different strains of pneumonia,” Russell said.
“Because I’m at an increased risk, I receive the government-subsidised pneumococcal vaccination, which protects me against a form of bacterial pneumonia.
“I received my vaccination four years ago and I’m due my booster vaccination in a year,” said Russell.
“I would not be without the pneumococcal vaccination and I’m very much aware of the potential health repercussions of not protecting against bacterial pneumonia,” Russell said.
Russell and Leanne own a coffee shop and a cleaning and pest control company, so absence from work is not feasible.
“Because we own two companies, I had to go straight back to work when we returned from America, despite my diagnosis.
“I tend to wheeze a lot due to my COPD, but these symptoms were much worse when I had viral pneumonia,” said Russell.
“I experienced tightness of the chest, a lot of mucus on my lungs, and more shortness of breath than usual.
“I do Ironman triathlons and marathons. Maintaining my fitness is of utmost importance to me. I usually exercise every day, but stopped exercising for almost two weeks when I developed pneumonia,” Russell said.
“I ran in the New York marathon for the American Lung Association last November, which coincided with the start of Lung Health Awareness Month in Australia. I am training for the Gold Coast marathon, a cycling event in France and my 4th Ironman event in December, so I need to remain fit and healthy.
“Being vaccinated against bacterial pneumonia is an important part of my overall COPD management plan,” said Russell.
Leanne is a self-confessed germ-o-phobe, who constantly ensures her house is not a breeding ground for bacteria.
“Falling sick is not an option for Russell, our four children or I, because this can put Russell’s life at risk,” Leanne said.
Luckily, Russell’s bout of pneumonia was not as severe as Leanne’s, which has reaffirmed her decision to get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia this winter, not only for her own protection, but to also protect Russell.
Although there are certain groups at-risk of contracting pneumonia, such as those aged 65 and over, tobacco smokers, those living with diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease or liver disease, the potentially-deadly lung infection can affect anyone.