Pulmonary Rehab at Hillcrest South Turns Back the Clock for Patients

Nearing his 94th birthday, John Schwabauer thumbs through a record book of his daily workouts. He tracks every time he walks on his treadmill, noting the various speeds and time intervals it takes to complete one mile, something he was not able to do at 91. “I would get tired real easy before getting out of a chair sometimes,” he says of noticing his energy quickly diminishing. “I was overweight, short of breath. I just needed some energy.”

John suffered from a chronic lung condition and his doctors believed he would benefit from the pulmonary rehab program at Hillcrest South. “My doctors told me I had to do something,” he says. John followed through on their referral to Hillcrest South and started pulmonary rehab in November of 2011, going twice a week for an hour each visit.

When John started the program, he could barely walk to his mailbox and back without getting severely winded, but he attended rehab every week without fail and began to notice a difference. “It took me 25 minutes to walk a mile,” he says of gaining strength and respiratory endurance with the program. “Now it takes 15 minutes.”

Since graduating from the program, John committed to a weekly schedule of working out at home one hour in the morning on a treadmill he purchased after rehab. From going to no physical activity prior to pulmonary rehab, John says he watches what he eats, exercises every day (except Sunday) and has lost more than 40 pounds. Today, John walks a mile a day, lifts his 10 pound weights, then joins his wife in the garden or mows the lawn. “I’m enjoying life a lot better,” he adds.

“Pulmonary rehabilitation (Rehab) is a program that helps you get the most out of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatment,” explains respiratory therapist Diane Thompson. “In this program, you work with a team of medical professionals with a special interest in treating lung problems. Entering this program can help you feel better faster. It also helps you manage COPD in your day-to-day life.”

Diane has seen patients like John completely change their way of life by successfully completing and graduating from the program. It is a change she has seen with Paulette Rogers, who graduated Thursday, August 8 after beginning rehab in early June.

“I was real sick,” recalls Paulette. “I kept going downhill. I wasn’t getting any better.” Paulette has been living with COPD for nearly 5 years and says following hip-replacement surgery her health quickly worsened.

After visiting with a pulmonary specialist, Paulette was told her lungs appeared to be clear as indicated by breathing tests and x-rays. “My doctor said, ‘You’re out of shape,’” she says.

Paulette was referred to the pulmonary rehab program and underwent a stress test and respiratory monitoring during her initial evaluation. Therapists discovered her oxygen levels were less than 90 percent. Paulette was placed on oxygen at night to help maintain her levels.

With support from oxygen, Paulette also started to notice a difference in her energy and lung capacity from what she was learning at rehab, including breathing exercises, conserving energy and how to properly handle worsening symptoms.

“I have gotten stronger and stronger,” she says. “It’s really been a godsend for me. I feel so much better. I couldn’t walk 15 to 20 feet without having to sit down. Now I am gardening, camping and shopping!”

Components of Pulmonary Rehab

  • Exercise. Patients learn safe ways to increase fitness, endurance, and strength, as well as tips for exercising at home.
  • Techniques for breathing better.Lung exercises, relaxation techniques and other methods for coping with shortness of breath allow patients to build their respiratory endurance.
  • Activities of daily living.Patients are instructed on practical advice for conserving energy in their daily routine.
  • Medication education.Respiratory therapists help explain when and how patients should use each of their medications and how to use oxygen, if needed.
  • Dealing with Exacerbations.Patients work with therapists to develop a plan for avoiding infection and responding to worsening symptoms.
  • Counseling. When help with depression and anxiety is needed, therapists are available for counseling and support.
  • Group Support. Group support and advice from others is a great way to connect with others who may have many of the same fears, concerns, and goals. Group support also helps with the emotional aspects of COPD and treatment.
  • Family Education. It is important for families to learn with the patient.  Family support will help patients to continue using their new skills after graduating from the program.

For patients like John and Paulette, pulmonary rehab was an opportunity to turn back the clock and regain strength and energy that was slipping away. They both took full advantage of the program and feel better today as a result. If you would like to know more about the pulmonary program at Hillcrest South, contact Diane Thompson at 918-294-4090 or email diane.thompson@hillcrest.com.