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Pulmonary Rehab Program Improves Quality of Life
By Kevin Brown

Millions of Americans suffer from lung disease and many of them find their daily activities limited by shortness of breath.

The Washington Health System (WHS) Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program offers help to those with lung disease improve their quality of life. One-hour exercise and educational classes are held at WHS Washington Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The classes are tailored to patients’ individual medical status and needs. The multidisciplinary staff includes respiratory therapists, nurses and exercise physiologists.

Mark Sperry, M.D., a member of the WHS medical staff and board-certified in pulmonary medicine, explains that, “The most common lung disease we see in pulmonary rehab is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, but rehab is open to patients with any lung condition including what we call interstitial lung disease, which is inflammation of the lung, such as pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and any manner of lung disease that causes shortness of breath and a need for improvement in physical exercise.”

According to Frank Gladysz, RRT, CPFT, manager of respiratory care at WHS, their typical rehabilitation patient is someone whose lung disease limits his or her ability to participate in normal activities. “If your disease state is making you so short of breath that you can’t go to work, you can’t go to the mall, you can’t go grocery shopping, then you could benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation,” he says.

Pulmonary rehabilitation consists of mild aerobic exercise and light weight training. During the classes, rehabilitation staff measure patients’ oxygen levels, heart rates and shortness of breath to make sure they are working within safe limits.

“The idea is to improve your exercise tolerance like any athlete,” Frank says. “The fact that this group of professionals is here to help you, to watch you, and to monitor you, makes rehab patients more comfortable.”

Dr. Sperry agrees that pulmonary rehab helps build confidence in patients with lung disease. “I’ve seen patients who were terrified to do the things they would want to do because they were so worried they would get short of breath and have a major health episode. Going through the pulmonary rehab program showed them that, in a supervised setting, they were able to push themselves to do more and they wouldn’t have a major medical problem as a result of the exercise,” he says.

If you have lung disease and believe you could benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, Frank recommends talking with your primary care physician or pulmonologist. “Your physician will send an order to the hospital and then we’ll contact you to set up an interview,” Frank explains. “During that interview, we’ll do a couple quick tests of your lung function and exercise tolerance. We’ll talk to you about your lifestyle, diet, medications, and give you a tour of the pulmonary rehabilitation facility. We’ll also review your insurance coverage to make sure you know what you’re getting into cost-wise. The first visit takes about 45 minutes to an hour.”

The WHS Pulmonary Rehabili­tation Program staff use the information from the testing and interview to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to help the patient overcome limitations caused by lung disease and shortness of breath.

Patients are recommended to complete an initial 18 pulmonary rehab classes. After that, patients can decide to continue with another 18 classes if their health insurance approves it.

“We try to get patients to transition into some type of exercise program such as joining the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center or maybe find a Silver Sneakers program in their area. Another option is to encourage them to exercise at home,” he says. “The WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center offers a supervised exercise program in addition to general membership. This program includes an intake by the clinical coordinator who writes a specific program geared to the needs of the client. They then work that program in a small group, with like members. It includes pre and post blood pressure and other necessary individualized testing.”

“From a doctor’s standpoint, I’m looking to see if there’s improvement in the patient’s quality of life, in their shortness of breath and in their lung function,” Dr. Sperry says. “The benefits are really outstanding and have been shown by a lot of medical studies that it’s one of the best things we can do. Patients who perform pulmonary rehab also are less likely to be admitted or readmitted to the hospital and that’s something we think is really important.”

“Improved quality of life is really the big thing. Through exercise, you’re going to be able to do things you weren’t able to do before.” Frank says. “You’re not going to go out and play soccer, but you might be able to go to your grandchild’s soccer game where you couldn’t do that before.”

For more information about the WHS Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, call (724) 223-3285 or visit www.whs.org. Information on pulmonary rehabilitation is also offered by the American Thoracic Institute at www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/pulmonary-rehab.pdf.

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