As Canada’s perennial funnywoman, Mary Walsh is renowned for leaving audiences in stitches.

But on a quick stop in Toronto yesterday, the award-winning actress and beloved founding cast member of This Hour Has 22 Minutes sat down to discuss a serious cause close to her heart: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD.

“It is very prominent in my family and has been for a number of generations,” explains the 57-year-old.

As the newly appointed spokesperson for The Canadian Lung Association, Walsh is determined to bring this lung disease — the fourth leading cause of death in Canada — to the forefront in the lead-up to World COPD Day on Nov. 18.

“People just don’t get diagnosed,” says the Newfoundland native, who has just finished filming a new pilot and is in the midst of writing a screenplay.

“COPD can’t be cured, but it can be halted. So the sooner you get diagnosed can mean the difference between being attached to an oxygen tank all your life, or just taking a simple spray in the morning and keeping on top of it.”

People with COPD generally have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which slowly damage the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Most people begin to experience symptoms in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Health experts believe COPD can be caused by a rare genetic disorder, Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, air pollution, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke and chronic childhood lunch infections.

Walsh would like to see every doctor’s office in Canada offer a simple spirometry (breathing) test, so others don’t have to suffer through what many of her relatives have: Relying on oxygen tanks and becoming unable to go anywhere.

Latest From ...