@momothree: Apnea is actually a very serious condition. The prefixes explain what the words mean. In this case, the prefix “dys” means difficulty so dyspnea means difficulty breathing. The prefix “a” means without so apnea means “without breathing”. The actual definition of apnea is “suspension of external breathing”.
There are several ways to experience apnea. You can hold your breath and be apneic. Apnea can also be drug or mechanically induced. In your aunt’s case, it would be due to complications of her COPD. Our bodies cannot sustain for very long in apneic spells. It leads to severe lack of oxygen and permanent brain damage can occur. It is very serious and can ultimately lead to death.