Valeria Hatcher knew something was wrong when she began getting winded just walking short distances and going up stairs, so the 48-year-old went to see her doctor. But like many individuals with pulmonary fibrosis (PF), Hatcher’s journey with the disease began with a misdiagnosis.
Hatcher was first treated for asthma and heart failure. Then in 2009, she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis caused by lupus. She has been on supplemental oxygen ever since.
As a mother and grandmother, she acknowledges the physical and mental challenges of PF. “It’s a scenario of life giving you lemons and figuring out what to do with the lemons as they are coming at you faster than you can catch them,” said Hatcher.
Much of her days are spent scheduling doctor visits and ensuring an adequate oxygen supply. “I’m still a happy person but I’m more concerned with the logistics of this life-giving gas,” Hatcher says. “You need to have patience with yourself because this is a progressive disease.”
While managing and advocating for her health, Hatcher also virtually attends several support groups which she refers to as mental lifesavers. They are a source of comfort and hope. Once Hatcher connected with her first support group, she began learning everything she could about the disease. Now, she devotes herself to helping others struggling with PF. Before the pandemic, her volunteer efforts included speaking with medical students and sharing her personal story at community events.
“I want to create more awareness about pulmonary fibrosis,” Hatcher said. “We need people to understand this disease and how it affects your entire life.”
Now age 61, Hatcher is hopeful that in the near future, she’ll receive a successful lung transplant. “I just want my life back,” she said. “To be able to take a deep breath without supplemental oxygen, home concentrators, and all of the logistics it requires — would make me so happy.”