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March 14, 2006 > Pulmonary Rehabilitation Provides an Inspiring Experience

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Provides an Inspiring Experience

Take a moment to breathe in and breathe out. Was it easy? For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or restrictive lung disease, taking a simple life breath is a laborious act. Day-to-day activities such as going upstairs, taking a shower, vacuuming, doing laundry, gardening or grocery shopping can cause shortness of breath. Pulmonary rehabilitation helps these patients relearn how to breathe as they go about their daily lives. Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week, observed March 12 through 18 is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the breath of life.

"We ask our patients to set some goals for doing rehab," says Margaret Chaika, RCP, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator for Washington Hospital. "They give answers like, ‘I want to breathe better, enjoy my children and grandchildren, rely less on others, return to my hobbies and leisure activities, travel, have fewer trips to the hospital or emergency room and have less anxiety about daily activities.’"

For patients with chronic lung disease, pulmonary rehab is an effective way to help control symptoms and improve the ability to go about day-to-day activities. At Washington Hospital, pulmonary rehab is a six-week outpatient program consisting of individualized breathing retraining and exercise sessions that last from one to two hours. A physician’s referral is required for pulmonary rehab, as well as a preliminary breathing test and a metabolic exercise test.

Washington Hospital’s pulmonary rehabilitation program provides counseling, social support and education for patients who suffer from shortness of breath, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or other respiratory diseases. The program includes breathing retraining and monitored exercise. You are encouraged to quit smoking before starting pulmonary rehab.

Exercising for strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health is a crucial aspect of successful pulmonary rehabilitation. Chaika says rehab patients also learn life strategies such as:

  • Using your breathing medication correctly
  • Having a list of all your medications in your wallet
  • Ways to prevent infections and good hand-washing techniques
  • Having an action plan, including when to call the doctor and how to prevent going to the emergency room
  • Good nutrition
  • How to cough correctly without collapsing the lung
  • Learning the benefits of using oxygen correctly
  • Breathing retraining exercise
  • Making physical exercise a fun part of daily life
  • Pacing yourself
  • Managing stress

    Pulmonary rehabilitation can be very successful in improving the functional ability of people with lung disease and improving their quality of life. At the end of rehab, a patient will have less shortness of breath. A rehab program can also help a patient get over the depression often felt after a diagnosis of chronic lung disease. Chaika says attending support groups in conjunction with rehab helps get a patient out of the house, meeting people and doing activities that can raise spirits and outlook on life.

    To be a candidate for pulmonary rehab, your breathing test numbers need to show below 65 percent functionality. Chaika says that the National Institutes of Health has a campaign emphasizing that you should "know your numbers," meaning your breathing numbers, just like you should know information about your cholesterol numbers. You can ask your doctor about having a breathing test.

    Studies show pulmonary rehabilitation can also decrease the amount of time spent in the hospital because patients are healthier and stronger than before participating in pulmonary rehab. Although Chaika boasts of eight of her patients who have chosen to spend more time in the hospital -- as Washington Hospital volunteers.

    "Some of my patients have responded so well to the rehab that they have now become hospital volunteers. That’s getting them back in the mainstream," Chaika shares.

    At the end of this month, 18 patients from Washington Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehab program will be joining pulmonary rehab patients from around the Bay Area for "A Day at the Races" at Golden Gate Fields to celebrate life, one breath at a time.

    "You may have COPD, but you shouldn’t let that hold you back and stay at your house. Pulmonary rehab gets those endorphins going," Chaika says.

    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.

    The Better Breathing for Life support groups meet at Washington Hospital once a month. Monthly guest speakers address topics of importance and interest to COPD and restrictive lung disease patients. To be on the support group mailing list, call (510) 494-7025 and press prompt #2.
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