One Breath at a Time
Pulmonary Rehab Program Restores Quality of Life
When 64-year-old Rhonda Gordon enrolled in Northern Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, little did she imagine that she’d soon be tripping the light fantastic under the evening stars during a warm summer night in Mount Airy!
As a recent “graduate” of the Pulmonary Rehab program, Rhonda feels she’s been given a new lease on life – one that will help sustain the enhanced physical and quality-of-life improvements she has achieved from her enthusiastic participation in the 18-week program. “I can now do so many things I couldn’t do before – like dancing with my husband at a recent outdoor concert,” says Rhonda.“Despite the humidity that night, we danced to many of the songs — slow and fast!
Building Strength & Stamina
Under the watchful leadership of pulmonary expert Connie Paladenech, RRT, RCP, Northern’s Pulmonary Rehab Program is meeting a significant healthcare need for the residents of Mount Airy and surrounding communities. Opened one year ago in partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Health, the program treats patients with chronic lung disorders that negatively affect their quality-of-life and ability to perform regular activities of daily living. Typically, patients include those diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), pulmonary hypertension, emphysema, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, or any restrictive breathing disorder such as Interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).
All patients are referred to the program by their primary-care or specialty physician – who are aware of the fact that pulmonary rehabilitation has been embraced by the American Thoracic Society & European Respiratory Society (ATS/ERS) as the most effective intervention available to improve pulmonary function and quality of life among affected patients.
“Our focus is to provide a safe and effective educational/exercise program to help patients better manage and control their breathing while also conserving energy,” explains Paladenech. Since many pulmonary patients require the use of supplemental oxygen, each patient’s initial clinical assessment includes a recommendation for an oxygen-delivery device that will best meet their needs. “There are many oxygen-delivery devices, and they all work differently, so one of our priorities is to help ensure that patients are using the right device, on the right settings, to maximize their oxygen therapy requirements,” says Paladenech. Patients are also given one-on-one tutorials about the purpose and timing of all other medications that have been prescribed for them.
The pulmonary rehab team – which includes specialists in respiratory therapy, exercise therapy, nursing, exercise physiology, nutrition, and psycho-social support — also introduces each patient to an increasingly progressive exercise regimen that has been individually tailored to enhance their strength and stamina. “We carefully monitor their exercise activities – which may include a combination of walking, climbing stairs, using treadmills, and doing resistance training to enhance upper- and lower-body strength,” said Paladenech.
Rhonda: A Role Model for Recovery
A native North Carolinian, Rhonda worked as a licensed nursing professional for 21 years in various hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout Stokes and Surry Counties. She first began to notice some personal health problems shortly after the birth of her daughter Brett, now a 32-year-old flight attendant. Over time, she was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders – the latter of which led to pulmonary fibrosis, a respiratory disease in which breathing becomes more difficult due to the formation of scars and excess connective tissue in the lungs.
Earlier this year, following major abdominal surgery (for a diagnosis unrelated to her lung condition), Rhonda’s physician referred her to Northern’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. “I was excited about joining the program because the personalized exercise program increases blood flow to all organs of the body – not just my lungs,” said Rhonda.
As she approached her “graduation date,” Rhonda spoke appreciatively about the progress she has made. “I have improved so much physically – especially on the treadmill,” she laughs. “At first, I was worried about falling off it – but the staff are right there with you, every step of the way. They’re very attentive; very personable.
“The rehab staff check your oxygen level and blood pressure constantly (frequently) – before, during, and after your exercise,” she added. “And even as they’re monitoring you, they want to know your perception of how hard you’re working and how you feel.”
Rhonda said she found the educational sessions very informative (“especially the nutritional advice”); and noted how she enjoyed meeting new people who understood and could relate to her own health challenges.
“My breathing has so much improved; and I have less pain across my neck and back,” she said. “When I first arrived, I was asked by the staff about my goals. I told them I wanted to ride my bike, with my husband Stanley, down the New River Trail and maybe the Virginia Creeper Trail, too. Well, I think I’m ready to start pedaling!”
The Beatles, Brad Paisley or Beyonce?
For Connie Paladenech, the Pulmonary Rehab program’s success is due to a combination of the patients’ determination and persistence to work hard to improve their health, and the staff’s professionalism and compassion in educating, encouraging and motivating patients to achieve their goals. “It’s definitely a team effort,” she says, “and the results are phenomenal.”
And if anyone should know what works, Paladenech should. As a nationally recognized leader in the field of pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation, Paladenech also knows how to build on
success. To that end, she has added a ‘music therapy’ component to Northern Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehab program so patients can achieve even better results in boosting their breathing capabilities.
“By carefully selecting the tunes to be sung, we hope to further empower patients to better manage their breathing,” explains Paladenech. Not surprisingly, there’s solid science behind the expected fun and collegiality: “We look at a number of things in selecting the songs to be sung,” explains Paladenech, “such as the tempo, the length of time each note has to be held, use of the diaphragm, and the amount of coordination needed to carry the tune.”
The music therapy component was added this past August.While Paladenech and her staff don’t think another Pavarotti will be discovered among their singers, they’ll be more than satisfied if each patient simply achieves another personal high note on their road to recovery!
For more information about Northern Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, visit us online at choosenorthern.org or contact at (336) 783-8448.