A Juneau man with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is featured prominently in a new anti-smoking campaign from the Centers for Disease Control.
Fifty-seven year old Michael Patterson started smoking cigarettes at the age of nine after running away from an abusive home and living on the street. At age 44 he was diagnosed with COPD, but ignored the symptoms for eight more years, until one day he woke up gasping for breath.
“The terror that I felt for them four hours was unspeakable. It just was mind numbing, heart-gripping terror. And it did something to me,” Patterson said. “It burned the desire to ever smoke a cigarette out of my life. But it also burned a desire into my heart, because I couldn’t imagine another living person ever having to experience that.”
Patterson became an advocate, speaking to high school students and whoever would listen about the health risks associated with smoking. He says he initially wanted to reach everyone in Juneau. Then last year somebody sent him a link to the CDC website, where the agency was looking for former smokers to share their tips about quitting.
Patterson says it was “a million to one” chance that he would be chosen for the campaign. But he decided to apply anyway. A 30-second television ad featuring him debuted this week.
On Monday, Patterson was introduced to the Juneau Assembly by former member Ruth Danner, who he got to know through his advocacy efforts. He told the Assembly that it’s humbling to think about his message now reaching millions of people.
“I can’t say how much of a blessing that is to reach out and affect somebody’s life like that,” he said. “And have the opportunity to do it again and again and again.”
Patterson said he plans to bring anti-smoking causes to the Assembly in the future, and he hoped for the city’s support.
When he was done with this speech Assembly members gave him a standing ovation and shook his hand.