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June 28, 2011 > Pulmonary Rehab Breathes Quality Back Into Life

Pulmonary Rehab Breathes Quality Back Into Life

Special-Needs Patient Regains Control of Her Health

Wai-Ming Leung could barely walk a block without wheezing and becoming short of breath. The 75-year-old resident of Union City had suffered from asthma for years, and earlier this year her physician also diagnosed her with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The doctor prescribed a new medication, and then referred Leung to a program that dramatically changed her life.

"Initially, my mother was hesitant to go into the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Washington Hospital because of her limitations," says Leung's daughter, Deborah Au. "First, she can't see because of glaucoma. She gradually started losing her sight about 10 years ago, and she has been blind for four years. Also, as an immigrant from Hong Kong, she has a limited understanding of complicated English terms, including medical terminology."

Fortunately, the Pulmonary Rehabilitation staff has access to Washington Hospital's "language line" that provides translation services for patients and their caregivers. In addition, Au accompanied her mother to most sessions to assist in translating, with her sisters and father attending when Au could not.
Because Leung could not see, the staff had her feel the anatomical models of the organs in the respiratory system as they explained respiratory anatomy and physiology. They also had her daughters physically assist Leung in her breathing retraining and in learning how to do the appropriate conditioning exercises.

"We educate and train people with lung disease to help them control their breathing problems, " says Pulmonary Rehabilitation Specialist Rose Stortz, a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) and respiratory care practitioner (RCP).

"In addition to explaining the anatomy and physiology of breathing, we instruct patients in the proper use of medications and inhalers, relaxation techniques for stress reduction, infection control and breathing exercises," Stortz explains. "We also teach them physical exercises to improve their overall strength, which improves their breathing, too. People with lung disease tend to lead a sedentary lifestyle, and that compounds their breathing problems. It's a vicious circle."

Participants in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program attend two sessions each week for eight weeks. The last half of the program focuses extensively on exercises and includes guidance for the patients in how to maintain their exercise regimen after they have completed the program. Unlike pulmonary rehab programs at most hospitals that offer only group sessions, Washington Hospital's program provides one-on-one counseling and training. Stortz asserts that such one-on-one sessions are particularly beneficial for special-needs patients like Leung.

"The Pulmonary Rehabilitation facilities and staff were world-class," Au recalls. "Rose was wonderful and very patient about explaining everything to my mother because translating took extra time. In spite of her initial apprehension, my mother soon became very enthusiastic about the program, and she never missed a session."

Leung looked forward to her rehab sessions, and she set ambitious goals for herself. Now, after completing the program, she can walk around Lake Elizabeth in Fremont with periodic rest breaks - a great improvement from before, when she couldn't walk far at all. And she is less reluctant to go on shopping trips with her husband and friends. She also works out on a treadmill at home and does various range-of-motion exercises on a regular basis.

Stortz notes that Leung scored significantly better on her post-program survey of symptoms than she did on her preliminary testing.

"We don't necessarily try to get people to walk faster," Stortz says. "Instead, we help them learn how to pace themselves and increase their endurance. We also give patients a knowledge test both before and after the program, and her scores increased remarkably on that, too."

Leung isn't the only one in her family who gained a better knowledge of how to cope with her respiratory problems. "My father didn't realize the severity of my mother's disease," Au says. "He became more patient with her as he came to learn about the obstacles she faced. He even learned some of the exercises when he took her to the rehab sessions. I learned a lot, too. Now I understand more about her disease and why it was so hard for her to walk without getting winded.

"My mother's anxiety and stress compounded her breathing problems, and the relaxation techniques they taught her made a big difference," Au continues. "She also was quite depressed because of her breathing problems, and the program definitely helped her outlook. I see a huge difference in her attitude. She feels empowered and able to take more control of her own health."

The stronger and more self-confident Leung now explains the benefits of her exercise regimen to her friends. She also decided to share her story publicly in the hope that it will help other people with respiratory problems, too.

When asked about her experience in Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Leung replies in perfect English, "The program was very good for me!"

Learn More About Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation program is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West, 2nd floor) in Fremont. The program provides one-on-one counseling and support for patients who suffer from shortness of breath and may have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COP), pulmonary fibrosis or other respiratory diseases. Pulmonary rehabilitation requires a physician referral and preliminary testing, including a pulmonary function test and clinical exercise study. Medicare and most private health insurance providers cover the cost of the program.

For more information, please visit or call (510) 494-7023.

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