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March 13, 2012 > Inspiring People to Breathe Better

Inspiring People to Breathe Better

Local Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Improves Life for Community Members

When the simple act of taking a breath is a struggle, managing daily activities can seem nearly impossible. For people with chronic lung disease, even washing the dishes can be exhausting. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help make daily activities easier.

Rose Stortz, RCP and Sherry Harrington, RCP are the pulmonary rehabilitation team at Washington Hospital. Their goal is to help those with chronic lung disease improve their strength - and their ability to breathe - so they can perform day-to-day activities with less shortness of breath and more stamina.

"We take people who are literally fighting for air and use education and exercise to improve their breathing," Stortz says.

The pulmonary rehabilitation program at Washington Hospital is individually tailored to each patient's needs. When someone is referred to the program, the first step is a pulmonary function assessment. This will show the degree of impairment in the lungs.

If the impairment is severe enough to qualify for enrollment, Stortz and Harrington will work one-on-one with the patient to develop an individualized treatment plan for the eight week program.

"We lay a foundation and then provide our patients with the tools they will need to continue once the program is completed," Harrington says. "We teach people how to exercise within their limits while building stamina, and how to conserve their energy so they can do more in their daily life."

Because long-term success depends on the patient maintaining an exercise program at home, Stortz and Harrington continually strive to improve upon the pulmonary rehabilitation 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."

Washington Hospital was the first pulmonary rehabilitation program in Northern California to incorporate the use of video game technology in its exercise program with Wii Fit.

"Buying and using Wii Fit at home may be less costly than buying a home treadmill," says Harrington. "Regardless of cost, however, we must learn what each individual patient is more likely to use."

Nutrition counseling, medication management and emotional support are also part of the pulmonary rehabilitation program. The eight week course includes two sessions per week, and family members are encouraged to be part of the process.

"When family members are involved and learn along with the patient, long term outcomes are improved," according to Harrington. With the tools and education gained, family members can offer support and encouragement at home.

Pulmonary rehabilitation touches every aspect of the life of the person with chronic lung disease: exercise, nutrition, medication, social issues, and emotional issues. The pulmonary rehabilitation staff at Washington Hospital is committed to helping patients manage their condition.

Washington Hospital also provides a "Better Breathers for Life Club," an ongoing support group that hosts educational speakers during monthly meetings, as well as social events. Individuals with chronic lung disease, and their family members or friends, are encouraged to attend. The pulmonary rehabilitation staff, along with a team of volunteers, oversees these meetings.

For community members struggling with shortness of breath, Harrington and Stortz have a piece of advice:

"Be your own advocate, don't wait for the doctor to suggest pulmonary rehabilitation. Ask about it and see if you qualify, or if it might be something beneficial to you. Having 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."

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 with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or other chronic 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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