In 1952, Billy was born William D. Patterson. Billy began smoking at the age of 14 (1966). That was just two years after the January 11, 1964 landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health presented his findings regarding the negative health effects linking smoking and ill health, including lung cancer and heart disease. The report laid the foundation for tobacco control efforts in the United States. In 1966, the United States became the first country to require warning labels on cigarettes.
At 14, Billy was not aware of the report. He thought smoking was cool. Billy had friends and family that smoked, and was not interested in being told not to smoke. Billy didn’t think about the effects of smoking. He ignored his father’s request to stop smoking many a time, with the thought that if he smoked, then so could he. Billy continued his habit. For Billy, a report was insignificant, he was just being cool.
In 2011, Billy began suffering from the ill effects of his smoking; he was not getting enough oxygen to his brain. Billy smoked at least two to three packs of cigarette a day for 51 years. On May 5, 2013, Billy was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with the underlying disease emphysema. For Billy, the damage was already done and it caught up with him. Billy was told to quit smoking by his doctor. Billy told his doctor that he would stop smoking, but Billy continued to smoke despite advice not to do so.
Billy continued to work in his automotive garage and carried on without quitting smoking. He continued to get weaker and had difficulties breathing, and eventually stopped smoking on June 29, 2013. Billy was smoke-free for nine months. He felt good and began to breathe better, but on March 18, 2014, while at work, Billy lost feeling in his leg, and was immediately admitted into the hospital where he stayed for 56 days due to complications with the contrast dye the medical team used to save his leg. Medical professionals were not aware that he was allergic to the dye, and because of the dye, he lost both of his kidneys.
While in the hospital reality of 51 years of smoking caught up with Billy. Billy now has to go to a local dialysis unit three days a week every week for the rest of his life. Billy has to carry his oxygen wherever he goes for the rest of his life. While Billy has some good days, he experiences some rough days too. After dialysis, Billy is extremely tired. During this documentary project, Billy had been attending physical therapy, and that too caused Billy to be extremely tired, but fortunately for him, he no longer has to attend physical therapy appointments.
Thanks to a mini-grant from the Arkansas Cancer Coalition, Billy had the opportunity to meet with over 440 students and adults and share his story. Mr. Billy spoke with the Arkansas Youth Leadership’s Initiative’s Tobacco Control Youth Board leaders, college students, and friends from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and middle school students, teachers, and parents at Harmony Grove Middle School in Haskell, AR.
It is our hope that by viewing this DVD and participating in the activities that accompany this project, young people will be empowered to advocate for policy change, influence social norms as it relates to tobacco use, and to share Billy’s story with their friends and family to promote a tobacco free lifestyle.