Cranberry nonprofit is breath of fresh air for people with COPD

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:48 p.m.

Dan Lynch delivered mail for 15 years by foot along the Allegheny River in Kittanning despite suffering from emphysema, asthma, and rib and lung injuries from a car accident in 1998.

Lynch particularly struggled to walk his 12-mile route during the winter because the cold air restricted his ability to breathe even more.

“It got colder as I went up the river, and that cold wind hits you, so it really took my breath away,” Lynch, 64, said.

In 2003, not long after he had lung surgery, Lynch delivered mail to Marianne Drevna on a particularly cold day, and she noticed he was huffing and puffing on her porch. She offered him two breathable foam masks from Breathe Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization based in Cranberry.

“They were a lifesaver,” said Lynch, who now is retired. “Anyone who has any kind of lung problem should use one, because it added years to my ability to work.”

Drevna, a respiratory therapist at Breathe Pennsylvania, said the breathable foam masks warm and moisten cold air before it is inhaled into the lungs. The masks help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, breathe cold air.

While someone with COPD or asthma already might have difficulty breathing, cold air further restricts airflow to and from the lungs, which makes the masks assets in cold weather.

COPD often is either emphysema, chronic bronchitis or a combination of the two diseases, which many times are caused by years of smoking or working in an environment that generates dust and other small debris.

“The best way to avoid COPD is to not smoke and to wear masks in dusty, dirty work environments,” Drevna said. “A chronic disease like COPD happens over time due to irritation.”

Drevna also said that the breathable foam masks, which are free to residents in the 10 counties that Breathe Pennsylvania serves, can be valuable to people with asthma, because cold air may trigger an asthma attack.

“I recommended one to my mother because she's older and has a heart condition,” Drevna said. “For someone having a hard time breathing in general or with a cardiac disease, a cold weather mask will help them, too.”

Breathe Pennsylvania offers educational programs for people with COPD, asthma and tuberculosis and also hosts smoking secession programs.

For more information, go to or call 800-220-1990.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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