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March 15, 2011 > Inspiring People to Breathe Better

Inspiring People to Breathe Better

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week Focuses on Contribution of Respiratory Care Professionals

For most people, breathing is something they do without thinking about it. We breathe in and out effortlessly every minute of every day. But what about those individuals who struggle for each and every breath?

During the month of March, in recognition of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR)'s 25th Anniversary and Pulmonary Rehab Week, Washington Hospital respiratory care professionals Rose Stortz, RCP and Sherry Harrington, RCP share how the hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program works to help patients with lung disease breathe better.

"The goal of Pulmonary Rehab is for the patients to learn to manage their pulmonary disease so they can perform activities of daily living (ADLs) with less shortness of breath and stay out of the hospital," Stortz explains. "Anyone with a pulmonary disease can benefit, including patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), emphysema, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, as well as post-lung transplant patients, to name a few."

Respiratory care professionals have a number of tools at their disposal to aid them in helping patients. For example, prior to beginning rehabilitation, patients' lung function is tested using spirometry.

What is spirometry?

"Spirometry is a diagnostic tool to measure lung function, specifically the measurement of the amount-volume-and speed-flow-of air that can be inhaled and exhaled," Harrington explains. "Complete pulmonary functions tests can be used to diagnosis and assess conditions such as asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and COPD. For patients to be admitted to the Pulmonary Rehab Program, certain criteria have to be met on the spirometry test to qualify."

These qualifying tests include:
* Forced Volume Vital Capacity (FVC), which measures volume of air that can forcibly be blown out after full inspiration
* FeV1, which measures the maximum amount of air that can be forcefully exhaled in one second
* FVC/FeV1 Ratio
* DLCO, which measures the extent to which oxygen passes from the air sacs of the lungs into the blood

In their efforts to help pulmonary rehabilitation patients breathe easier, Stortz and Harrington start by assessing each patient's pulmonary function. Then, through education and exercise sessions twice a week, which last between one and a half to two hours, they put patients on the path toward performing daily tasks with fewer instances of shortness of breath. The program lasts eight weeks and also includes nutritional assessments and group classes.

"We run a support group called the Better Breathers for Life Club, which is currently at approximately 125 members, and we also do diagnostic testing including pulmonary function testing, high altitude simulation testing (HAST) and metabolic stress testing, as well as quality control on the equipment in our lab," Stortz says.

To stay up-to-date on the latest developments in their field, both Harrington and Stortz remain active participants in a number of respiratory care organizations.

"We are members of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the California Society for Pulmonary Rehabilitation (CSPR) and AACVPR, so that we can stay on top of the new guidelines and ever-changing paperwork," according to Harrington. "We also arrange and chair quarterly meetings for the pulmonologists and we both help teach the women's arthritis class through the Washington Women's Center."

As part of the job, Stortz and Harrington continuously strive to improve upon the pulmonary rehab experience.

"We try to keep exercise interesting so that there is a greater chance that patients will continue to do it," Stortz says. "Also by finding different and new ways to exercise, we can accommodate the variety of people we see in the program."

Recently the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program was featured for its innovative use of video game technology to help patients gain fitness through the Wii Fit. Harrington and Stortz hope to continue expanding upon its use.

For community members struggling with shortness of breath, they have a piece of advice.

"Be your own advocate, don't wait for the doctor to suggest pulmonary rehabilitation," Harrington says. "Ask about it and see if you qualify or if it might be something you would benefit from. Having a lung disease can be overwhelming but you are not alone; learn what you can do to help yourself so that your lung disease doesn't control you, but you control it."

Breathing better is a fight that you can win with the right tools and support, according to Stortz and Harrington.

"We take people who are literally fighting for air and use education and exercise so that they can be their own advocates in their fight for better breathing," Stortz says.

Learn More About Pulmonary Rehabilitation

The pulmonary rehabilitation program at Washington Hospital provides one-on-one counseling and support for patients who are candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation, including patients who suffer from shortness of breath and may have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or other respiratory diseases.

If you would like to learn more about Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Washington Hospital, visit or call (510) 494-7025.

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