Kenn Martin spent his career working with movie stars, models and fashion’s elite. He traveled the world, styling hair at runway shows and on movie sets. When he was 58 years old, Kenn learned that those years had taken a toll on his lungs.
“Between takes on movie sets, you would always go out for a smoke break,” Kenn says. “When we were spraying a model’s hair, I would be standing in a cloud of hair spray. You would always be sure to cover the client’s face – but not your own.”
Kenn was always active – traveling, hiking, skiing and rock climbing. But a few years ago, he started to notice the effects of smoking and near constant exposure to those clouds of hair product chemicals. His illness began with shortness of breath. Soon, he could barely crawl from his bed to his bathroom.
“I knew something was wrong when I even couldn’t go out to get cigarettes. I loved those things – they were my life,” Kenn says.
Kenn was hesitant to get help. After caring for his ailing parents for a decade, he didn’t have a lot of faith in doctors.
“Most of the time, the doctors didn’t talk to each other. They were only focused on the narrow thing they were treating, not the whole person,” Kenn says.
After a trip to the emergency room and a hospital stay, Kenn ended up seeing Jessica Yoder, MD, at ACS Medical Clinic. She told Kenn what was causing his shortness of breath – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that affects millions of people each year. There is no cure for COPD, but what was once deemed to be a disease with a hopeless prognosis is now known to be very treatable.
Dr. Yoder prescribed medication, but also wanted him to see an expert in COPD.
“I remember the clinic called me and said, ‘Dr. Yoder got you an appointment with one of the greatest healers of all time,’” Kenn says. “His name was Dr. Barry Make at National Jewish Health.”
‘The Fabulous Dr. Make’
When Kenn saw Dr. Make, he was immediately at ease. “I felt like he was fully present in the room with me – I had never felt that way with a doctor before.”
Kenn quit smoking, and Dr. Make helped him manage his COPD. He also participates in rehabilitative therapy to improve his overall strength and lung health.
“I can’t say enough about the staff,” Kenn says. “From how Dr. Make, nurse Heather Howison, and the rest of the team comfort the patient, to the people in rehab and the pharmacy, everyone is wonderful.”
However, COPD is a progressive disease, and over the next couple of years his condition worsened. Kenn was having trouble coming to terms with his new reality.
“When I moved to Colorado, being in the mountains made me feel closer to God. But I was just stuck inside, staring out the window at them. My quality of life wasn’t what I expected it to be.”
When Dr. Make suggested that he start using supplemental oxygen therapy, Kenn resisted. “I hated it. It was like telling me I was doomed,” he says. “Finally, I decided, I don’t care how I look. I care if I can move!”
Life with ‘George’
Nearly three years after his diagnosis, Kenn is adjusting to life with oxygen therapy. He has a concentrator at home that gives him a steady supply of oxygen. When he is away from home, he has a portable oxygen tank that he has named “George.”
“It’s a learning experience with George. He’s gotten a little beat up – getting shut in car doors or falling over, but we’re getting used to each other.”
With George by his side, Kenn has been able to resume his life and is active again. He is focused on the future, including creating an art installation that will be displayed at Denver International Airport and a mask in honor of a friend for the Denver Mask Project.
In addition, Kenn recently became part of a four-year COPD study at National Jewish Health.
“I’m in the next phase of figuring out life and my health. I’ll see where this apparatus will take me and how I can help others.”
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