An Unlikely Celebrity Fights Smoking
|New York Times||
22 April 2008
Marie, the 58-year-old star of the city’s latest round of smoking-cessation ads, couldn’t tell you if the ads have made her famous or not — she doesn’t get out of the house enough to know if she’s become a recognizable figure.”
Having endured more than 15 amputations on her body since doctors told her that she had Buerger’s Disease, a smoking-related disorder, she can’t walk much more than a block before her left leg, which has a prosthetic below the knee, starts to ache.
Occasionally, she’ll take the bus to Atlantic City, “but if my leg hurts,” she says, “my friends know I’ll take it off right there and put it beside me.”
Marie, who bared her story, but not her last name, for the antismoking cause, used to work doing data entry in a Midtown bank, and first noticed pain in her leg when she would go for her daily walk with coworkers. Three years after her diagnosis (and several amputations later), she was practically housebound, living, as she puts it “for my next Percocet.”
Doctors trying to scare her into stopping smoking showed her images of people with her disease whose arms and legs were “black as coal” from gangrene. None of it worked — she kept smoking, hiding it from her two adult daughters when they came to visit. “My house always smelled like candles,” she says. “That should have been the first hint.”
After nearly losing her left hand altogether, she sharply cut back on her smoking, but still hadn’t totally kicked the habit until two years ago, when she took advantage of the city’s antismoking cessation campaign, calling 311 and ordering a nicotine patch that helped her stop for good.
She still has most use of both hands, and can easily answer a phone or hold a pencil, even if she can’t peel a potato or, as she points out in the commercial, unscrew a light bulb. More personally, she said that she thought her recurring illness killed a relationship with a companion of 10 years. Two years ago, that man died — “of smoking,” she said. “Heart disease. High blood pressure.”
At the offices of the city’s 311 information line, where Marie was taking calls today, almost every person she spoke with told her that the ad in which she appeared was the reason they were calling for the patch.
On a rare recent outing Marie made to a restaurant in her Bronx neighborhood, a woman stopped her to tell her what an inspiration she was.
“I can’t be that much of an inspiration,” Marie said she told her, “because I see that cigarette in your hand.”
The woman threw it on the ground.
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