Thomas L. Petty, MD--the legacy of a leader and pioneer in COPD

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sun, 01/17/2010 - 18:55

Dr. Tom Petty was known for his generosity and for his pioneering leadership and innovative philosophy of pulmonary medicine, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). His example served as a beacon of hope and enlightenment for many others during his long, distinguished career. He was a pioneer in COPD treatment and education, and he strove to educate both physicians and the public about the value of early diagnosis and intervention to reduce the impact of COPD. He wrote books on COPD for the patient, as well as many scientific books and papers. He was Professor of Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Charman of the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP). Dr. Petty died on 12 December, 2009 after a long pulmonary illness.

I had the privilege of knowing and working with him when I published a book by Rick Carter Ph.D., Brooke Nicotra, M.D., and Jo-Von Tucker, COPD patient. Petty wisely insisted on a new cover design, and identified with the key focus of the book, Courage and Information for Life with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. What he wrote in the Foreword, which he so generously contributed, exemplifies his own mission:

All patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should become expert in their own health care management. They should understand the basic nature of their problem, its course and prognosis, and how modern treatment can help to reduce the symptoms and enhance the quality of life that lies ahead.

Their doctor should be their consultant, as well as their friend and counselor. The relationship between patient and doctor is a key to success. This book is written from two viewpoints—the customer and the treatment provider, giving a basis for collaboration.

...the enlightened patient, equipped with modern knowledge, can be the key member of the healthcare team, with the goal of lessening the impact of COPD. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to prevent premature loss of quality of life.

In publishing Courage and Information our goal was to enable people living with COPD to work effectively with their doctors to achieve the best quality of life and prevent further deterioration. This type of rehabilitation and prevention must be based on a close working relationship between patient and doctor, something that Dr. Petty had long advocated and exemplified in his medical practice and publications. His work towards early diagnosis and intervention meant better quality of life and reduced costs. Simply, people living with COPD can get very sick and require emergency care, while preventive care can avoid the pain and cost of illness and urgent care. Since chronic disease, including COPD, accounts for a major part of the national health care account, he pointed the way to reducing the national health care budget while improving quality of life.