'Being fitter means I can keep up with my 10-year-old daughter'
Helen Mealey-Hunter (52), who works in retail, lives in east Belfast with her husband David (38). Helen, who has five children, says:
I have had breathing problems since I was nine years old. Initially it was thought I had whooping cough, but my mum realised the symptoms were similar to those of my grandfather who had asthma. The condition really affected my life. I had to use an inhaler and kept missing days at school.
In those days you did not get work sent home from school so it impacted on my performance and I was always behind my classmates. I was not able to participate in any games and would always be the child sitting on the bench while the rest were running around and playing.
In 2007, I had a baby and was transferred to the bakery in the store I worked in. I kept getting chest infections. I would be off work for anything between two weeks and six weeks normally, although on one occasion it was 10 weeks.
When I was examined by the doctor it was discovered that I had lost 40% of the capacity of my lungs and had COPD.
Almost immediately I went from having one inhaler to taking nine to 10 tablets and three inhalers a day for asthma, diabetes, cholesterol and COPD. These conditions were all uncovered within a year.
I found out about the NICHS taking control course through my doctor and it has helped to transform my life.
I began by learning how to breathe properly and how to do very light exercises - what I call taking baby steps.
I was set realistic goals, such as going for a 15-minute walk twice a week. I was also told of the importance of a healthy diet and both those things have given me new confidence.
Unlike when I was in school and just sat there during games because I felt I was not well, I now have a new attitude.
Every Monday after attending the programme I go for a two-hour exercise class with 13 other people from the NICHS session. I bought a 'fitness' watch and do 6,000 steps a day. There are nights when I am walking up and down the living room floor to reach my total.
One of the breakthroughs for me was admitting that I was ill and if one other person reads my story and it encourages them to change their lifestyle I will be delighted. The programme does work. My youngest child is 10 years old and I want to be able to keep up with her to an extent.
Recently we went to an amusement park in Scotland as a number of us were having birthdays around the same time and I went on all the rides. I would never have done that before. I now even have the confidence to dress up for charity events such as collections we took in the store at Halloween. My life has really changed. I have even ridden a Segway and laid a laminate floor in my home."