William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
Leading by Quitting
Leading by Quitting: Veteran inspires others to quit smoking
by Paul Rickert
MADISON, Wis. — On Tuesdays at 11:00 am, an extraordinary group of men and women come together at the Madison VA. While they all come from different backgrounds and branches of service, they are here for the same reason. They are all committed to quitting tobacco.
The group is led by Megan Heim, a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist and Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the Madison VA.
“The most immediate health improvement a tobacco user can make is to quit,” said Heim. “That doesn’t mean it is easy. We provide tools to assist with tobacco cessation, and group therapy is one of those tools.”
While the group is led by specialists from the VA hospital, it is the group members that provide inspiration and support to each other.
Doug Gronli from Oregon Wisconsin joined the program on September 25th 2012. He quit just two weeks later on October 7th and is now an advocate, trying to help others to quit.
He has attended 321 sessions and counting, more than any other member.
A Vietnam era vet, he started smoking when he was ten years old. By the time he quit he was up to a pack a day.
“My family threw me a surprise 70th birthday party because they didn’t think I’d live to see 71,” said Doug. “If I didn’t quit, I wouldn’t be here. Every day I wake up and I am just so thankful to be alive and to enjoy another day.” Doug is now 78.
He tried quitting many times over the years.
Prior to quitting he asked his doctor to lock him in a rubber room so he could quit. The doctor declined, but Doug now feels the group is his “rubber room.”
“I tried everything. I even spent over $1000 on laser therapy. Nothing worked until I started coming to this class. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Doug used a combination of the nicotine patch and lozenge and is convinced the support from the group was instrumental to helping him quit. He is now a strong advocate for the VA Tobacco Treatment Program.
“There are so many benefits of quitting,” said Doug. “Food smells and tastes so much better. I didn’t realize food could taste so good!”
He’s had less hospitalizations since quitting smoking and feels healthier. He can walk longer distances without having to stop and catch his breath and the money he saved from quitting allowed him to take trips to Las Vegas and Florida.
When his great grandson was born he made a promise that he would never see him smoke. And he stuck to that.
“If I ever get the urge to stop and buy a pack of cigarettes, I think of all of the faces in this group.” That’s enough to get him through the urge.
He keeps coming to group because he still finds the support from others helpful, and he wants to help others as well.
“Every week Doug provides support and is an inspiration to others,” said Heim. “It doesn’t matter if someone comes to group and says they started smoking more or haven’t quit yet. Doug provides non-judgmental, unconditional support, positivity, and empathy to others. Others in the group even look to Doug and say, “Wow, you’re an inspiration. If you can quit for so many years, it makes me feel like I can too.”
Doug’s message is that everyone’s path to quitting is different, but it is important to get help. You don’t have to do it alone.
With the VA going tobacco free October 1st 2019, now is a great time to quit.
The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital offers several options for Veterans who want to quit tobacco.
Nicotine withdrawal can be relieved through medications and the clinic providers can help you make an informed medication choice.
The group clinic is available to get support from other Veterans’ like Doug and learn about their experience in quitting tobacco. Group clinic meets at the Madison VA on Tuesdays from 11am-noon in building 7, room 206.
Veterans who prefer to work with a health care provider one-on-one, can receive support and coaching via phone and secure messaging.
Veterans can call to set up an appointment at 608-280-7084, the first call takes about 20-30 minutes.
Veterans with access to My HealtheVet secure messaging can visit https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/secure-messaging-spotlight and send a message to “Tobacco Treatment – PHARM” team.