Pulmonary rehabilitation increases quality of life

Mar. 24—The pulmonary rehabilitation program at the Owensboro Health Healthpark is a way for patients with chronic lung diseases to get their life back, according to Sara Abell, nursing manager for the program.

Over 20 million people are currently diagnosed with chronic lung diseases, resulting in symptoms that include weakness, shortness of breath and exhaustion, according to OH.

Additionally, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third-leading cause of death in the United States and can cause long-term disability, according to the American Lung Association.

Symptoms of chronic lung diseases and ailments, according to Abell, can be limiting for patients.

However, only about 3% of Medicare beneficiaries with COPD, according to Abell, receive pulmonary rehabilitation.

Abell said many patients who go through the program are not able to even walk far distances without feeling out of breath.

With a physician's referral, the program, she said, helps manage symptoms and increase an individual's stamina, endurance and breathing efficiency through supervised exercise, education on nutrition and diet from trained individuals at the Healthpark and learning new breathing strategies.

"Most of these conditions are not something that you can get over — they're chronic conditions, so this program helps take what the doctor has recommended and gives the patient the tools and foundation to build on that and be able to maximize their quality of life with the condition that they have," Abell said.

Ginny Johnson, nursing supervisor for the program, said the program can help patients with an array of ailments and diseases that create pulmonary issues, including COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, cancer, lung transplant, asthma and, most recently, post-COVID-19, among others.

The main goal of the program, according to Johnson, is to prevent hospitalizations and improve the overall quality of life for patients.

Most patients, according to OH, typically begin to see improvements in their abilities to perform everyday activities within a few weeks of entering the program, including better lung function and mobility, as well as feeling healthier overall.

"It's wonderful when you actually see the outcome of someone who comes in barely able to make a circle around this track, and then they're able to do so much more later," Abell said.

Abell said her father went through the program and is a poster-child for how successful it can be.

"He's since passed away from congestive heart failure, but I really thought it would have been from COPD," she said. "They got him in here, and that man wouldn't walk a step, and he came through this program and ended up at the Healthpark with his oxygen tank on the treadmill, and he would go to all the Healthpark classes. It gave him life."

Before the programs, Abell said, "he sat at home; he didn't have any social interaction, that was his life — sitting in his recliner."

According to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, programs such as the one at the Healthpark decrease the mortality rate by 37% for Medicare beneficiaries who received rehabilitation within three months of a hospital discharge.

The program accepts patients ages 18 and older, by a physician's referral only, who are experiencing decreased pulmonary function.

Anyone interested in joining the program can speak with their physician about getting a referral or they can reach out to the OH Heart and Lung Rehabilitation program for more information at 270-688-5155.

Christie Netherton, cnetherton@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7360