'Smoking 20-a- day made my lungs collapse at 33,'

Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Jan 30, 2015

says mother who now becomes breathless just brushing her teeth

  Kirsty Vass, 33, began smoking at 15 as she thought it was cool\

  At 31, she felt a piercing pain and doctors said her right lung had collapsed

  A year later her left lung collapsed and doctors diagnosed emphysema


  Her 20-a-day habit damaged her lungs and she now struggles to breath


  Becomes breathless walking up stairs, brushing her teeth and can't work


  Her daughter Lucy, 15, has to help with the cleaning and cooking


  Ms Vass is now campaigning to have smoking banned from public places


  'It's too late for me - but don't make the same mistake as me,' she says 

A mother who smoked 20-a-day for more than 15 years says cigarettes have ruined her life after they caused both her lungs to collapse. 


Kirsty Vass, 33, from Torbay, Devon, can now barely get dressed or brush her teeth without becoming breathless.


The mother-of-one says it feels as though she is ‘breathing through a straw’ and has been diagnosed with emphysema, a lung disease normally seen in people over 65.


She says she is heartbroken to have developed the condition so young, and believes smoking has dealt her a ‘life sentence’ – robbing her and her family of the prime years of her life.

She had to give up her job as a carer, and now has to be looked after by her 15-year-old daughter and elderly mother.


Ms Vass said: ‘I try not to think about the future, I just take it day by day and I’m glad to have woken up.


‘It’s an old people’s disease. I wasn’t supposed to get this until 65 and I’ve got it at 33.

‘My mum says she’s swap places with me, that this shouldn’t be happening to me.’

‘I just want to help people understand that smoking can do serious damage to your life.

‘If people who smoke spent one day with me they’d realise and understand and give up smoking.’

Emphysema is where the air sacs inside the lungs have become weakened and ruptured, reducing the surface area of the lungs, and the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream.


This means the lungs become ineffective, leading to difficulty breathing.

The leading cause is smoking, and there is no way to reverse the damage. Treatment can stop further damage and help with the symptoms, but there is no cure.


Because of this, Ms Vass calls it a ‘life-sentence’.

She said: ‘I call it a life sentence because I can’t go to work, I can’t go to the shops, I can’t do the washing up.

‘I can’t have a tickle or playfight or go swimming with my daughter.

‘I can get up the stairs but once I’m at the top I’m out of breath.’

‘Getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, leaves me out of breath.

If the weather is too hot I can’t leave the house, or if it’s cold and wet I can’t leave the house either.

‘It affects everything.’


She began smoking at 15, when hanging out with friends in a park and someone handed her a cigarette.

She saw other people smoking and began smoking around five a day before or after school.

As soon as she was 16 she began buying her own Golden Virginia or Cutter’s Choice tobacco and she gradually began smoking more and more.


By the time she was 30 she was addicted, and had been smoking 20 a day for at least ten years, but had no health problems other than the occasional sore throat or cough.


But in September 2012 she began experiencing chest pain, and went to the doctor.

‘He listened to my chest, gave me some painkillers and I went home.

‘He rang me back in the morning and I said “I’m hurting badly” and he said “I think you should get yourself to hospital.

‘It felt like someone had put a huge sharp object in my chest and run at me. It was a piercing pain.’


At the hospital, an X-ray revealed her right lung had collapsed, and doctors had to re-inflate it with a tube put in her chest.


A year later, in November 2013, her left lung collapsed, and that was when alarm bells rang for the doctors treating her.

She said: ‘I was making a cup of tea and went to grab my phone from the front room. And when I got back into the kitchen it was that piercing pain again.

‘My partner at the time drove me to hospital again and I had the X-ray again and it was collapsed, and they re-inflated it.


‘They said “this isn’t normal, you should not have two lungs collapsed within a year".'


Doctors carried out scans, blood tests and a spirometer test, which measures how much air a person can breathe in and out.

It was after this test that Ms Vass was diagnosed with emphysema.

She said: ‘A consultant sat me in a room and said “You’ve got emphysema”.

‘I didn’t really know how to react because I didn’t know what emphysema was. I was trying to get my head around it.

‘They explained a bit to me but I wasn’t really listening and I didn’t understand because they’d just told me. 

‘It was only when I got home and read some leaflets I realised how serious it was.’

After she was diagnosed, Ms Vass’ breathing got so bad she had to give up her job as a carer.

She said: ‘I’d been cleaning for 12 years. Then a few months before my lung collapsed I thought I’d change my job to do supported living for disabled people, a carer.

‘It’s quite a difficult job with taking them out and taking them swimming, so I couldn’t do it anymore.’


Losing her job meant she could no longer afford the rent on her home, so she and her daughter had to move, which left her feeling as though she was unable to cope.

She said: ‘I was heartbroken, I lost my job and I lost my home because the rent was so high.

'My breathing was bad. I had a chest infection, I was fatigued. 

‘I didn’t cope with it all, I was having panic attacks. 


'I got myself in such a state my hands went numb and stiff and I had to go to hospital

'I talked to doctors about being depressed. I just couldn't accept I wouldn't be able to get up and go to work as normal.' 


‘But luckily I’ve got a supportive family and they all got together and told me to sit down and mind my breathing and they would help.’

Now Ms Vass’ mother and her daughter Lucy, 15, help care for her, as she cannot go shopping alone and struggles to travel.

‘I’ve tried not to get Lucy to help me, she’s 15, she’s got her GCSEs coming up,’ she said.

‘She’s got her daily jobs to do, washing up, cooking, vacuuming .

‘She does the cooking most nights. I sit at the kitchen table and tell her what to do.

‘I feel sorry for her because she shouldn’t be doing it for me. When I do have a bad day, it’s not nice.

‘But she understands, and tells me to put my feet up.

‘It’s just upsetting. I can go to the cinema, but I can’t do swimming, I can’t walk to the zoo with her, I can’t play with her or muck around. It upsets me.’


Ms Vass has regular contact with a COPD nurse at her local surgery, who she calls ‘fantastic’.


She takes an inhaler in the morning to open her airways, and another she carries around with her to take in case she gets out of breath.


it is not known how the disease will progress, and whether she will need treatment with oxygen, or home carers, as she gets older, but these are possibilities.


Now, she is fronting a campaign in conjunction with Smokefree South West, calling for public places in Bristol to become ‘smoke-free areas’.  

Ms Vass says if she can persuade one smoker to quit, she will feel happy.

‘I got involved in this campaign because if I hadn’t seen people smoke at such a young age, this might not have happened.

‘Smoking isn’t big or cool. If people didn’t smoke in parks or play areas younger people might not start smoking.

‘Nobody realises this could happen to them. It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for other people.

‘I just want people to stop smoking. I want to say “Don’t make the same mistake as me". 


A spokesperson from Smokefree South West said: 'Smokers are five times more likely to quit for good with the help of a trained stop smoking adviser alongside them. 

'Local NHS Stop Smoking Services are free to attend and their friendly, expert teams offer practical help and advice, from tips on how to cope with cravings to finding the best tailor made way to quit.


'Recognising that both smokers and their loved ones need support during a stop smoking attempt, Smokefree South West has created a Facebook page to offer friendly help and advice on how to quit.'


Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs in the lungs, making a person more short of breath.

This is because the air sacs in the lungs – called alveoli – are clustered like bunches of grapes.

In emphysema, the inner walls of the air sacs become weak and eventually rupture, creating one large space instead of many small ones.

Emphyema means the air sacs in the lungs become weak and rupture, reducing the surface area of the lungs and causing difficulty breathing

This reduces the surface area of the lungs and the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream.

When a person breathes out, the damaged air sacs don’t work properly and old air is trapped, leaving no room for fresh, oxygen-rich air.

Treatment can slow the progression of emphysema, but it can’t reverse the damage.

Emphysema is one of the conditions that make up Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

A person with COPD, might just have emphysema, or might also have another condition such as chronic bronchitis, in which the airways become inflamed and produce excess mucus, making it hard to breathe.

The main cause of emphysema is smoking or long term exposure to air pollution or manufacturing fumes.

Rarely, it is caused by a deficiency of a protein that protects the elastic structures of the lungs. 

This type of emphysema is called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency emphysema.

Most people with tobacco-related emphysema begin to experience symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60.

The symptoms are wheezing, particularly when breathing out, breathlessness when resting or active, a tight chest and a cough