Nathan, a Native American and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, had permanent lung damage. He never smoked cigarettes, but for 11 years he worked at a casino that allowed smoking. After breathing people's cigarette smoke daily, Nathan began to have frequent asthma attacks triggered by the secondhand smoke. "You could see the smoke hovering inside the casino," he recalled.
As he worked at the casino, Nathan noticed more changes to his health. Along with asthma attacks, he started having frequent problems with eye irritation, headaches, allergies, ear and sinus infections, and bronchitis. Over the years, the symptoms got worse. "A common cold escalated into pneumonia, sending me to the emergency room," he said. "During one of the visits, a doctor was looking at x-rays of my lungs and commented that I had the lungs of a heavy smoker. I told him, 'I never smoked a day in my life!'"
In 2009, doctors determined that Nathan's airways were seriously damaged by repeated infections from exposure to secondhand smoke, which led to scarring and widening of his airways called bronchiectasis. Lung damage from bronchiectasis is permanent. His lung problems were so serious that Nathan finally had to leave his job to avoid the smoke. Just walking a short distance, he would get out of breath and had to use oxygen daily.
Nathan and his wife enjoyed a long marriage with five adult children and three grandchildren. Nathan prided himself on being a very active person. As a young man, he served in the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines reconnaissance division, where he received sniper training. He also raced motorcycles and received sponsorship from a major motorcycle company.
Nathan participated in tribal dance competitions and loved to referee at high school basketball games, which he did for 14 years. "I can't do any of those things anymore," he said.
Nathan decided it was important to share his story, with the hope that others would not suffer as he did. He spoke at schools, Pow-Wows, and conferences as much as his health allowed. He wanted to make everyone aware of the dangers of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Young people were a special passion for Nathan. He urged teens not to start smoking and if they did, to quit. He encouraged everyone to protect children from secondhand smoke.
"Some people tell me they smoke, and I ask them if they have grandchildren. 'If you smoke, you may be taking that smoke home to the grandchildren and their small lungs,' I tell them. I never smoked; look what happened to me. I want to make people aware of the damage that exposure to secondhand smoke can do to you."
The secondhand smoke Nathan was exposed to permanently damaged his lungs and led to his early death. He died on October 17, 2013. He was 54.
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