I have long been a fan of country musician Joe Nichols. His songs are some of my favorites and I was lucky enough to see him perform live in concert a few years ago. Joe is not only a talented musician, but a compassionate person looking to help bring more awareness to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a terrifying relatively unknown and incurable disease that took his father, Michael in 2002.
Joe Nichols and renowned pulmonologist Dr. Marilyn Glassberg were kind enough to join me for an interview this week to discuss idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). They dished on the most common symptoms, risk factors and how we can all bring more awareness to the disease. Joe was also very kind to share some of the details about his upcoming album, new tour starting later this year and how he helped pay tribute to his father by recording a classic Merle Haggard song on his album “Crickets.”
Candace Rose: What is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?
Dr. Marilyn Glassberg: “Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring disease of the lungs. It impairs oxygen getting out to important organs in your body like the brain, the liver, the kidney, the lungs and when that happens patients develop severe shortness of breath, cough, a dry cough, and sometimes chest discomfort.
The symptoms can be very much mimicked by other lung diseases more commonly like asthma, emphysema, and so patients are often misdiagnosed. But the biggest problem is they don’t see their doctor early enough so they can get an accurate diagnosis, referral to a pulmonologist for what’s available now for them in 2016.”
Candace Rose: Who is at risk for the disease and can it affect people of any age?
Dr. Marilyn Glassberg: “It can affect people of a variety of ages, but really it’s mostly a disease of men above the age of 55 who are caucasian and are ex-smokers, that’s it’s target. But we do see women with the disease, we see younger people with the disease. Joe (Nichols) will tell his story of his dad who was in his 40s. Mostly it’s men above the age of 55.”
Candace Rose: Can idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis be treated?
Dr. Marilyn Glassberg: “Yes. We have a lot of resources now to manage the disease in 2016. We can replace the oxygen that they can’t get from the air every time they can’t breathe by giving them supplemental oxygen. We can send patients also to pulmonary rehabilitation where they’re taught breathing strategies and techniques and how to use the oxygen with exercise. We can suppress the horrible cough that they get so that they’re more comfortable. Since the fall of 2014 there are approved FDA treatments, and so patients do have treatments for the disease, although we don’t have a cure, there are treatments.”
Candace Rose: Joe, I’m very sorry you lost your father to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Can you tell us about your father’s battle with the disease?
Joe Nichols: “Thank you. It started in 1996, that’s when we first saw the symptoms that he had – very violent cough, very prolonged fits of coughing that lasted several minutes. He started going to the doctor, we started making him go to the doctor back then and he was diagnosed with emphysema or asthma or pneumonia, tuberculosis – anything that was not IPF. He finally was diagnosed correctly with IPF. None of us had ever heard of the disease before, but we did some research. The doctors helped us understand what the outcome was going to be. It’s very fatal. We felt very empty. My dad of course lost that battle in 2002 after being diagnosed two years before. It was very quick, very painful time. It’s left us ever since then with this feeling of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness.
We’ve always wanted to find some kind of meaning for his passing, and we finally have I think with the Breathless campaign and what they’re doing with information spreading with doctor’s awareness, with patients awareness – people looking for symptoms and actually being able to narrow it down nowadays and not be misdiagnosed. The website is BreathlessIPF.com. They’ve got wonderful information that would have helped my family a ton back then, so I’m glad it’s available for families now.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us more about the Breathless campaign, please? How can we all get involved and help?
Joe Nichols: “Well, social media is a big thing as the doctor would say. It’s a huge thing to spread the word about it. Like I said, it’s a very unknown disease that’s very serious, very dangerous. The more you talk about it, the more you research, the more you share with other people, the more information that’s shared, the more knowledge is known about the disease and we can hopefully find more treatments, more cures and start diagnosing correctly and in bigger numbers.”
Candace Rose: I’m a huge fan of your music. Can you tell us about your 2016 tour?
Joe Nichols: “The first thing I’ll tell you is it’s starting in Canada. It’s going to start in Canada in mid-April, so we’ll have a very busy year this year since we’re not in the studio completing the album. It’s almost done, so by the time the tour starts up we’ll be finished with the record and we can focus just on touring. There’s a new single coming out within in the next six to eight weeks, and the new album should drop probably in November.”
Candace Rose: Do you have a favorite song or one that you look forward to performing most at your concerts?
Joe Nichols: “I have a couple of them that I’m looking forward to playing – one is called ‘Undone’ and believe it or not another one is called ‘Breathless’ so it kind of ties into what we’re doing here.”
Candace Rose: I love your rendition of Merle Haggard’s classic song “Footlights” on your album Crickets. What was your experience like recording it and why was it important to include it on this album?
Joe Nichols: “Well, it’s kind of a tribute to my father. It was his favorite Merle Haggard song. Since I can remember, since my earliest memories he was playing that song, and always very fond of it. I felt like it would be appropriate to honor him on a record in this way. The song is very dear to me. It made the album (I think) complete. It offered some very good ‘meat.’ I like to call it the meat of the record, something that may not be a single to radio, but something that has a very personal meaning to me.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you Joe and thank you Dr. Glassberg. Where can we go for more information on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; and where can we go for more information on your tour and your album, Joe?
Joe Nichols: “BreathlessIPF.com is where you should go first and foremost. Check out all the information that they have there. They have a lot of information to be had. My website is JoeNichols.com or @JoeNichols on Twitter.”
Sponsor: Boehringer Ingelheim.
Candace Rose Anderson was not compensated by any sponsors for this interview.