Interview with Dr Mina Gaga, Vice President of the European Respiratory Society

Dr Mina Gaga is the Vice President of the European Respiratory Society. In this interview, she shares an overview of her work and what she enjoys most about it, and discusses why the “Take the active option” message of Healthy Lungs for Life is so important.

Could you tell us about your area of work?

I head up a department that deals with pulmonary medicine. Most of our patients have lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but we treat people with all lung conditions. My area of expertise is asthma immunology; I trained abroad in this field at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and I have since participated in big pan-European and local studies.

In recent years, I have also become very interested in lung cancer, because it is a very big problem nowadays and I think we need to do our best for our patients.

How did your interest in this field develop?

My father worked in pulmonary medicine and was actually the first bronchoscopist in Greece, so it is an area I have always been familiar with. I became very interested in the mechanisms of the immune system in relation to asthma, so I decided to focus specifically on this. Lung conditions are very diverse and affect millions of people, with symptoms like breathlessness and cough often making lives very difficult. It is great to be able to help these people in any way I can.

You recently helped to take Healthy Lungs for Life to the Athens Authentic Marathon. Could you tell us more about this event?

The event went very well: it was a huge celebration of the ability to play sports and be active and taking control of your life. Our activities started 3 days ahead of the marathon, in a marathon expo in the taekwondo stadium in Athens. We had a booth for the Hellenic Thoracic Society and Healthy Lungs for Life, where people could do ergospirometry and talk about lung disease. The weather was great, so people were happy and there was a very festive feeling everywhere.

On the day of the marathon, we gathered at around 7am. There were many people, the roads were free of traffic and there were balloons everywhere. There was a mix of top athletes and people who were just doing it for fun – some people had to walk half of the way, but everyone did extremely well. Even people in wheelchairs, with pushchairs and small children took part. I think it showed that people are realising that exercise is good for your health. It trains your lungs, your heart and improves your general wellbeing – so it is extremely important.

Why is the “Take the active option” message of Healthy Lungs for Life so important?

Exercise helps our physical condition in every possible way. It makes us feel better within ourselves, and can really help with things like quitting smoking. Being active can give us a better quality of life overall, right through to old age. “Take the active option” is a very important message. I think that the Healthy Lungs for Life video shows that people can do little things every day, like taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to work and doing our best to exercise.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Firstly, I enjoy talking to patients, getting to know what their problems are and trying to help. I also really enjoy working with the next generation of doctors as they get to grips with medicine and understanding their patients. It is great to support these new, promising, young people.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far?

I am very proud whenever a patient says that they are happy with the help we have offered, and when they compliment my department and staff. I am proud on an everyday basis, because my colleagues do their jobs extremely well and our patients are very happy. The general feeling of satisfaction among patients and my colleagues is the best possible outcome of my work.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think that is really important to talk to everybody involved in healthcare, and that definitely includes patients. It is vital to actively listen to patients and involve them in any decisions. The voice of patients is extremely important, and that is why I feel extremely proud of what the European Lung Foundation does, because it brings together all of the expertise, which is the way forward.

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