Raising Awareness of COPD


One of the deadliest respiratory diseases often goes undetected.

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) was best known for his role as Spock in the Star Trek franchise. After revealing his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis in 2014 and becoming an advocate for COPD awareness, he passed away a year later from complications caused by the disease.

Respiratory therapists know well just how deadly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is – yet the progressive respiratory disease is largely unfamiliar to the general public despite being the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

However, without awareness campaigns similar to those accompanying breast cancer or atrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), it’s unsurprising that most people have never heard of COPD.

The disease, which is caused by smoking in 85-90% of cases, tends to display in ways that could also be identified simply as side effects of smoking. Some of the most obvious symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and fatigue; without proper education, why would anyone, especially someone who smokes, think twice about those signs?1

“We often don’t think about COPD as a deadly disease,” explained Eli Diacopoulos, business leader of home respiratory care at Philips, “But the reality is that of the six leading causes of death in the U.S. over the past 40 years (1970-2002),4 and despite advances in COPD, death rates have doubled while other causes like stroke and heart disease have decreased by 63% and 52%, respectively. With continued investment in COPD research and innovation, like there is for, say, heart disease, we can make a difference in COPD mortality in the next 40 years.”

COPD is truly a dangerous disease, and now, some major organizations are partnering to bring the term into daily conversation. On World COPD Day 2016, the COPD Foundation and Philips joined Julie Nimoy and David Knight, daughter and son-in-law of the late Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role of Spock in the Star Trek franchise, to announce the launch of the Breathe Boldly (#BreatheBoldly) movement.

Taking to Social Media

The Breathe Boldly movement seeks to give COPD a place on social media by inviting people to experience one of the symptoms most commonly associated with the disease. To participate in the movement, individuals either photograph or film themselves performing an activity they love while breathing through a straw, then upload it to social media using the hashtags #BreatheBoldly and #COPD.

Then, those individuals challenge their friends and family to participate in the challenge by tagging them, involving others in the movement and spreading awareness of COPD.2

“COPD affects so many people but still does not have much visibility or understanding,” John Frank, general manager of Philips Sleep & Respiratory Care, said in a press release. “Many assume that only long-time smokers are at risk, but that’s not the case. We’re hopeful that Breathe Boldly will not only increase global awareness of the disease, but also help people better identify symptoms of COPD, and gain a better understanding of what it is like to live with this disease that impacts so many people worldwide.”2

Although the campaign was only introduced in November, it has already made its way across social media, even in posts from celebrities such as Ashlee Simpson, Jonathan Cheban and Christina Milian. Additionally, the people behind the Breathe Boldly movement were excited to involve themselves in the campaign – and so they have.

“We made it a big deal within the Philips organization,” Diacopoulos said with a laugh. “Employees from executive management all the way to the people who build our products were participating, as were their friends and families.”

However, the team that initiated the Breathe Boldly movement knows that a social media campaign alone is unlikely to create the widespread awareness they seek. This year, Remembering Leonard, a film produced by Julie Nimoy and David Knight, will bring a new awareness to COPD.

Remembering Leonard

“The idea for producing a film really began after Dad announced on the CNN/Piers Morgan Show that he was diagnosed and suffering from COPD. In the coming months, we became very aware of how serious and prevalent COPD is,” Julie Nimoy told ADVANCE. “Our decision to share my dad’s story as a film project seemed like a natural fit since my husband and I had already produced a few health-related documentaries, one of which my dad narrated. And the medium of film has the power and potential to reach millions of people throughout the world.”

Although the film will document Leonard Nimoy’s life, his daughter and son-in-law knew that COPD had to play a huge role, both due to Leonard Nimoy’s experience with the disease and the strong need to raise awareness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COPD remains the third-leading cause of death in the United States, and upward of 50% of those living with COPD are unaware that they have the disease.3

“Our goal is to not only reach people throughout the world who loved and admired my dad, but additionally, we want to reach individuals who have or may have COPD,” said Julie Nimoy. Additionally, she and Knight hope that the film will resonate with healthcare professionals, teens who may be tempted to try any form of tobacco product, and people who already smoke.

With Leonard Nimoy as the subject of the film, Julie Nimoy and Knight knew that they had a platform with the potential to reach countless individuals – and did not waste that opportunity. “David and I feel that Remembering Leonard is a very powerful and moving story that will resonate strongly with viewers,” Julie Nimoy said. “We feel that our film will inspire the audience to share their experience with their friends, family and co-workers via social media. In addition, as my dad was so well-known, we’re certain that this film will be bringing more attention to COPD.”

The Remembering Leonard national film tour will begin in mid-2017 and will include major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Toronto. For the most recent updates, visit rememberingleonardfilm.com.


  1. American Lung Association. COPD symptoms. 2016.
  2. Philips. Philips launches Breathe Boldly movement on World COPD Day. 2016.
  3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 2016.
  4. JAMA. U.S. Leading Causes of Death 294(10). 2005.

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