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March 13, 2007 > Pulmonary Rehab Breathes Quality Back Into Life

Pulmonary Rehab Breathes Quality Back Into Life

Most of us take every breath of every day without giving it a second thought. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or restrictive lung disease don't have that luxury, especially when even simple daily tasks such as taking a shower, doing laundry, walking upstairs or spending time with grandchildren can cause shortness of breath. With the help of pulmonary rehabilitation, these patients can relearn how to once again make breathing a more effortless part of life. National Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week, March 18 - 24 can help all of us be mindful of the importance of healthy breathing with this year's theme, "Breathing Quality Into Life."

"As the American Lung Association states, 'If you can't breathe, nothing else matters,'" says Margaret Chaika, BS, RCP, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator for Washington Hospital. "The National Institutes of Health (NIH) promotes a campaign that you should 'know your numbers,' meaning your breathing numbers. You can ask your doctor for a breathing test."

Pulmonary rehabilitation can reduce the number of trips to the hospital and the emergency room that lung patients experience. Pulmonary rehab focuses on improving the patient's overall health and strength. As Chaika characterizes it, "Knowledge is power."

Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation program helps patients with chronic lung disease return to daily life without anxiety about the activities they do. Enrollment in the program requires a physician's referral and preliminary breathing tests to measure the oxygen you breathe in and the carbon dioxide you breathe out. To be a candidate for pulmonary rehab, your breathing test numbers need to show below 65 percent functionality. You must stop smoking or be actively engaged in efforts to stop smoking per Medicare guidelines.

The six-week or 12 session outpatient program at Washington Hospital includes breathing retraining and coordination of breathing techniques, as well as exercising through stretching, walking and working with weights. Exercise improves strength, endurance and flexibility for general health. Rehab sessions are individualized for each patient, and sessions last between one and two hours. Patients receive a 60-page workbook covering a variety of topics including learning about your lungs and diagnosis of a lung problem, how to use inhaled medications correctly, airway clearance, preventing infection and attending the monthly support group Better Breathing for Life Club.

"Pulmonary rehab is for people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), shortness of breath, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, obesity-related respiratory disease, and other respiratory diseases," says Chaika. "Patients in the program get counseling, social support and education about their lung disease."

Benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation
* Pulmonary rehabilitation teaches breathing exercises to lung patients, and emphasizes ways to pace yourself through the day. Lung patients also learn to prevent infection, avoid or manage stress, a plan of action for episodes of labored breathing, how to cough correctly and how to effectively use oxygen therapy.
* During rehabilitation, patients learn about healthy eating, good nutrition, and making physical exercise a fun part of everyday life.
* At the conclusion of pulmonary rehabilitation, patients struggle less with shortness of breath and have gained some life strategies to assist them in living with lung disease.

"Attending a support group while going to pulmonary rehab can help patients feel less alone with the disease and improve their outlook on overall quality of life," says Chaika. "The Better Breathing for Life support group at Washington Hospital meets monthly and is open to all COPD and restrictive lung disease patients."

Through Better Breathing for Life, lung patients tackle activities that may have seemed impossible in the not so distant past.

"Recently, about 25 club members said they were interested in beginning a walking program in which the club will walk the equivalent of great distances across the country as measured by a pedometer," adds Chaika. "The first goal on the "virtual walking tour" is Sacramento. Then they will walk the number of steps it takes to go to the White House, and from there, they hope to trek around the world."

"Next year will be our silver anniversary," Chaika proudly shares. "It would be great if, as a group, we could log over 25,000 miles around the world by the time we have our 25th anniversary."

Better Breathing for Life celebrates the achievement of healthy breathing through outings like the annual Day at the Races, during which club members enjoy a day of horse racing while feeling the freedom to go to events without anxiety. This year's Day at the Races will be Wednesday, May 9.

A club mascot, "Kitty," represents the willingness of rehab patients to get back into recreational activities such as traveling. Kitty the stuffed toy cat goes with club members as they travel around the world, and the members have had their pictures taken with Kitty in such places as Palm Desert, Pismo Beach, Alaska, the Panama Canal, Montana, Utah and Idaho.

"One of the important things about graduating from pulmonary rehab is most patients want to go back to travel or make their travel safe," Chaika says.

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For more information on the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Washington Hospital, call (510) 494-7025 or visit the hospital Web site at, click on "Services and Programs" and choose "Pulmonary Rehabilitation" on the pull-down menu.

To be added to the mailing list for the Better Breathing for Life support group, call (510) 494-7025. The group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month, and the next meeting is 1-3 p.m., March 28 in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room C, at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont. Dr. Jason Chu, Medical Director for Pulmonary Rehab and Respiratory Care Services, will be speaking about "Challenges of Managing COPD" from 1-2 p.m. Family members and loved one are welcome to attend.

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