When the weather is nice there is nothing Ronnie Duerkson, 70, loves more than to be outside – playing with his three grandchildren, gardening or going for a ride on his motorcycle. However, at the age of 69, Ronnie was diagnosed with bullous emphysema. The condition slowed him down, making it difficult to breathe. As part of his treatment, Ronnie’s doctor referred him to pulmonary rehab at Hillcrest South.
“I don’t think I had much confidence in it, but the longer I did it, the better I could tell I was getting,” he admits. “You start out real slow and you just build up and build up.”
Through the program, Ronnie was able to learn better breathing techniques and strategies, while also continuing to build his physical strength through monitored exercise three days a week. Ronnie graduated from pulmonary rehab July 2013 and returned in December for phase 2, offered to recent graduates to continue to exercise on their own at the hospital. Getting back into the routine of exercise, Ronnie says, is already helping. “It makes me stronger,” he adds. “I can tell already that I can do more than when I started.”
Ronnie is also dedicated to learning more about living with a chronic lung condition. When he was diagnosed with emphysema, his doctor placed him on continuous oxygen support. As the medical equipment was delivered to his house, he had a few concerns to address. “What if I go on a trip?” Ronnie asked the tech. “He said, ‘To tell you the truth, most people who are on oxygen are homebound.’ I thought, well I’m not going to be.”
A free monthly support group for people with chronic lung disease offered at Hillcrest South is the meeting Ronnie looks forward to every month. Better Breathers Club provides support, education and socialization for people just like him. “They are in the same shape I’m in,” Ronnie says. He is learning how to manage his condition, while also learning how oxygen support can still afford him an active lifestyle. “The last two months I’ve been through oxygen bottles, big bottles, little bottles, I’ve got a concentrator at home and now I’ve got a portable concentrator,” he adds.
Ronnie has even found a way to put the portable oxygen concentrator in a backpack to ride his motorcycle. He laughs, “I don’t want to sit in the house - I want to be active!”
It’s the determination he is putting towards reaching his goals of continuing regular exercise and attending Better Breathers Club to better his health and better his life.
Better Breathers Club is a free support group for people living with chronic lung conditions and their loved ones. It is held the last Thursday of every month 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Hillcrest South, 8801 S. 101st East Ave. Call 918-294-4090 for more information.