Carole’s story: “Pollution nearly killed me. We need a new Clean Air Act.”

Carole has COPD and is supported by Healthy Air Campaign partner, British Lung Foundation. In this blog, she tells us how air pollution affects her health and why she supports our call for a new Clean Air Act.

Until you’ve been through near-suffocation, you don’t know what a terrible feeling it is. My life changed forever after I collapsed because of air pollution. It’s an invisible danger. It nearly killed me.

I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2009. It resulted in me having to take early retirement from the Met Police, ending a 22-year career as an officer at South Norwood Police Station.

I’d always been physically fit, running and swimming. Adjusting to lung disease was a challenge. I was frequently out of breath. Some days were worse than others. I assumed this related to the weather, humidity, or damp conditions. I never made the connection to air quality.

It was beautifully sunny, I was walking the dogs, when suddenly I became very short of breath. This was worse than normal, I felt my chest tightening, couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding violently. I collapsed on the pavement.

No-one else was around. Eventually I managed to stand and started walking, hoping help was around the corner. I couldn’t take more than three-steps at a time, before needing to stop, panting for air. It took me two hours to struggle home, a walk that normally takes 20 minutes.

I had to keep indoors for 2 months while I recovered, on antibiotics and steroids, in the care of my son and daughter-in-law.

Medical experts told me the pollution had inflamed my lungs, putting pressure on my heart. I was starved of air. If I hadn’t got help from the emergency doctor, I could have died. It was very frightening and I didn’t think I would recover.

The experience has made me very cautious and nervous. I now always check the DEFRA pollution forecasts before judging if I can venture out. I never did that before. I thought that if you can’t see or smell pollution, it’s not there. I felt naïve. If the forecast is for moderate pollution, that’s it – I have to stay inside.

COPD has restricted my life. Air pollution is now increasingly trapping me in my own home, and there’s nothing the best doctors in the world can do about it.

That’s why I’m joining a new coalition of charities, including the British Lung Foundation and ClientEarth, to tell the government that we need a new Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution.

It’s down to the government to introduce laws to help improve air quality. It’s about motorists switching to low or zero emission vehicles and that won’t happen overnight.

We need the government to take action by showing ambition and leadership. A new Clean Air Act will show they are taking tackling toxic air seriously. We need new legislation that protects all our health and puts in place alternatives that help us all make cleaner choices.

I’m glad that people are taking action. It gives me hope that one day, others won’t have to go through what I’ve been through.

I’m supporting this coalition because unless we join together to take action, nothing will change. We need to do something urgently.

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