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A word from the wise: Don’t start!

A word from the wise: Don’t start!
George Byron Wise, a longtime smoker, suffers with emphysema and now speaks to youth about the dangers of smoking. His advice? Don’t start!

Don’t start.

These are wise words from George Byron Wise, a gentleman who lives just outside La Vernia.

George “Byron” was 23 years old before he even started smoking. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952 during the Korean conflict and was honorably discharged in 1954. During that time, he received C-rations (now known as MREs) three times daily from the military; inside those meal packets was a little package that contained four cigarettes. Every day each enlisted person got 12 cigarettes. That’s when Byron started smoking. He became addicted.

During that period of time, he explained, everyone smoked. In grocery stores, doctor’s offices, even hospitals, people smoked. The only time you didn’t see anyone smoking was in church. Back then, cigarettes were 15 cents a pack and $1.50 a carton.

Byron was diagnosed with emphysema in 1994. It has been 21 years since he’s had a cigarette. His wife, Valetta, helped and encouraged him to quit.

He said there are many things he used to do that he took for granted. Now he cannot do them. The last time he held a baby was when his granddaughter, Kyley, was 4 months old. He cannot hold or pick up babies out of a crib. He has to remember to breathe when he bends over to tie his shoes. No swimming, no dancing with his wife, no throwing baseballs with his grandsons in the back yard.

Some days, when the allergens and pollens are so high, he cannot even go out of the house to go get his mail. He used to sing in church and direct the choir at La Vernia United Methodist Church. He cannot do either anymore. Emphysema has irrevocably changed his life.

Byron has spoken at several churches and at the La Vernia High School to students about not smoking and the possibility of getting diagnosed with emphysema or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). He explains how the addiction to cigarettes causes mood changes, health changes, and changes how food tastes.

With emphysema, a person can get air in, but they can’t get carbon dioxide out. It’s like a car that has a muffler that’s been crimped, he explained. Emphysema puts a strain on other parts of his body, as well. He now has a pacemaker his second one, because his heart had to work so hard to breathe out the carbon dioxide.

He said that it’s easy to get started smoking. He said that with the first few cigarettes, you do a lot of coughing.

“That’s the body’s way of telling you it doesn’t want that cigarette,” he said. “It’s trying to get all that bad smoke out of the lungs.”

After a period of time, the body gets addicted. People get angry when they are having nicotine cravings, he stated.

Byron is attached to a 75-foot length of plastic tubing he refers to as his “leash.” He has a machine in the house that pumps oxygen into his nose 24/7 through that tubing. He also has a portable tank that he has to wear whenever he leaves his house. It gives him seven hours of oxygen. He cannot go anywhere other people might be smoking.

When Bryon wakes up in the morning, he said that is the most blessed time of the day. All night long there has been no exertion, so all his organs have been fed with oxygen all night long. He lies there, reminiscing about all the things he used to be able to do. He delays getting dressed as long as he can, because he knows that he will be short-winded the rest of the day.

Byron does the math for how much it costs to smoke now. He figures $6 a pack multiplied by 32 years would cost approximately $62,000 for cigarettes.

His words of advice to our youth are short and simple. “Don’t start!”

And to the smokers out there: “If you are a smoker, quit immediately!”

He encourages folks to call him if they are trying to quit smoking and are having problems doing so.

“If I can save one person, it will be time well spent,” he said.

Byron would love to volunteer to speak to as many youth groups as possible. He is willing to travel to Floresville, Seguin, Stockdale, or New Braunfels to reach his audience. If you would like George “Byron” Wise to speak to your youth, he encourages you to contact the La Vernia News and they will put you in touch.

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