Meet Two Patients Grateful for Every Breath They Take
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Helps Carol Przybyla of Chicopee and Charles “Chic” McIntyre of Agawam Gain Control Over Their Lung Disease
SPRINGFIELD – “Four years ago I was diagnosed with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and it absolutely crushed me because I have been a non-smoker all of my life,” said Carol Przybyla of Chicopee.
“I became very anxious every moment of the day and found myself in and out of the hospital. I was always a person in control of myself, my surroundings, and my family, and this disease just took over my entire life,” she added.
For people with chronic lung disease – Przybyla’s was caused by scar tissue from lifelong asthma – routine daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, showering, or making the bed often causes shortness of breath.
“Anyone who has ever experienced trouble breathing knows how scary it can be. It’s no wonder then as their shortness of breath increases, pulmonary patients become fearful of physical activity and do less and less,” said Jessica Mason RN, manager, Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Baystate Medical Center.
It wasn’t until Przybyla’s physician suggested that she might benefit from attending Baystate’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program that the 65-year-old woman began to regain some control over her life and become active once again.
“I can exercise now, but I couldn’t when I first started the program four years ago. I still tire easily, but that’s to be expected. I can’t clean the house for an entire day like I once did, but at least now I can do some cleaning little bits at a time,” said Przybyla.
The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to help patients become more independent in their ability to perform activities of daily living and to achieve a better understanding of their disease and control of symptoms, noted Michele Hart, RN, BSN, Pulmonary Nurse Clinician.
“None of us wants to admit we can’t do something any longer. We help make seemingly impossible tasks possible for our patients by teaching them strategies to make everyday activities less strenuous. For example, making a bed is a difficult task. Rather than going back and forth, we recommend that they make one half of the bed first, then walk around to complete the other side,” said Hart.
“Before beginning their rehabilitation with us, we meet with each patient individually to determine their limitations so that we can design the very best exercise program to maximize the benefits for them,” she added.
In addition to the exercise and education in pulmonary rehab, Hart said one of the biggest ways patients benefit is by “establishing a camaraderie with others experiencing the same symptoms and comparing notes with them.” And Przybyla agrees.
“Just being around others who have the same problems really helps. They have become like a little family to me. And it’s not just the other patients you meet, it’s the nurses, too, who are just wonderful, superb at what they do for you,” said Przybyla.
“In my opinion, the best thing about the whole program is the nurses. They’re just outstanding and I sometimes wonder where they get them….they’re so professional and knowledgeable…. like mother hens when they’re taking care of you,” laughed Charles “Chic” McIntyre of Agawam.
McIntyre, 70, a longtime smoker who developed COPD about six years ago, spends a little over one hour, three days a week in Baystate’ pulmonary rehab gym.
“There is no question on days I go there that I always feel better,” said McIntyre.
“I have yet to see a patient say the program didn’t help them, but they must continue to exercise at home, by walking at their local mall, or by signing-up for an ongoing maintenance program at our Pulmonary Gym so they can maintain the initial gains they have made,” said Dr. John Landis, chief, Pulmonary Services at Baystate Medical Center.
Both Przybyla and McIntyre began their journey to better breathing by first participating in Phase 2 of the hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. The eight-week session of monitored exercise and educational classes is designed to help patients learn how to manage their disease, reduce stress, and develop habits to enhance their daily living. Both are now in Phase 3, a self-pay maintenance program where for $30 per month they participate in ongoing medically supervised exercise to maintain and improve their cardiopulmonary fitness, muscular strength and endurance.
Today some 35 million Americans suffer from pulmonary disease. According to the latest figures available from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, 225,000 Americans died of lung disease in 2006. COPD alone caused 121,000 of those deaths and ranks second as a cause of disability. It is the third leading cause of death and the only leading chronic disease that is rising yearly rather than declining.
Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma – make up the majority of patients referred to pulmonary rehabilitation programs, noted Hart. However, studies show that pulmonary rehabilitation may be beneficial in patients with restrictive lung diseases such as interstitial lung disease, as well as those with neuromuscular disease.
“If patients with chronic lung disease don’t exercise their respiratory muscles, they simply will not regain any function. As part of their pulmonary rehabilitation, patients learn new breathing techniques such as pursed lip breathing to help them decrease their shortness of breath,” said Dr. Landis, who also serves as medical director of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.
Participation in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Baystate Medical Center requires a physician referral. Most private insurers cover the cost of pulmonary rehabilitation. Medicare covers the costs for those with COPD, asthma, and restrictive lung disease. Maintenance programs are not covered by insurance.
Baystate Medical Center’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program was the first in Massachusetts in 2002 to be accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and is one of only seven accredited in the state.
Baystate’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program offers a Better Breathers Support Group in conjunction with the American Lung Association. The free sessions, for people with lung disease and their families, are held on the third Wednesday of every month from 11 a.m. to noon in the Pulmonary Rehab gym at 3300 Main St. in Springfield.
For more information, or to register for any of Baystate’s Pulmonary Rehab programs, call 413-794-7026. Additional information is also available at baystatehealth.org by clicking on Pulmonary Services under the “Services” tab.