Breathing new life into an old hobby!

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A few short months ago, his thoughts were preoccupied with taking his next breath. Today, he’s focused on selecting the subject of his next painting. Bernard is in his mid-eighties. More importantly, he’s a recent graduate of Credit Valley’s new Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program (PReP). When he began the program, he was finding it difficult to breathe as a result of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease known as COPD. He’d been living with COPD since his diagnosis in the early 1980’s.

COPD is an irreversible and disabling lung disease that can result in death. It is estimated that 750,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with COPD. However, that number only represents a quarter of the people who actually have it. The disparity lies in the fact that the symptoms are often dismissed as signs of aging or a lack of physical fitness. Coughing, shortness of breath and struggling to accomplish day to day activities without losing one’s breath are tolerated and dismissed as expected and acceptable symptoms of aging.

The Credit Valley Hospital launched the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program – “PReP” – last November. Less than six months later, there are six graduates from the program who have completed classes offered for two-and-a-half hours, three afternoons a week for ten weeks.

The program is part of GlaxoSmithKline’s programe to integrate information services and manage education or PRIISME program that aims to achieve the optimal management of chronic diseases Through an integrated health-care approach, PRIISME¨ helps healthcare providers support patients suffering from asthma, diabetes and COPD. Prior to the launch of the program, there was no pulmonary rehabilitation program for Credit Valley’s patients forcing them to go to Toronto. Bringing care closer to home is a priority for Credit Valley in many of the programs we offer.When Bernard first entered the program, he struggled to manage five minutes of exercise on the stationary bike followed by five minutes on the treadmill with a 15 minute break in between. At the completion of the program, he was managing 20 minutes on each of the machines with only five minutes of rest in between. Every breath is no longer a concerted effort. Bernard can now begin to take breathing for granted (like the rest of us) for the first time in years.

The rehabilitation program is designed for those who have moderate to severe COPD. In most cases, the damage has been done but the potential lies in helping patients better manage their disease.

The statistics will show Bernard’s measured improvement. What will not be revealed is the camaraderie that evolves over the period of these ten weeks. Debbie Coutts, coordinator, pulmonary rehab program says “Patients say the program is successful because of the staff; staff say the program is successful because of the patients.”

Debbie is passionate about the role that each and every member of the multidisciplinary team plays in improving the quality of life for these patients. “We’re actually having an impact of these people’s lives. It is so amazingly rewarding to know we are improving things for them.” It was through a casual conversation during a rehabilitation class that Bernard mentioned he used to paint as a hobby. He was encouraged to share a few of his pieces with his new friends. As a result of the feedback and his improving health, he picked up the paintbrush again and has re-discovered his long-lost hobby.

A simple spirometry lung-function test can identify COPD. Through community outreach, PReP is working with six family practice groups of physicians and allied health care professionals who are recognizing COPD and asthma cases in their offices. One-on-one counseling is done with patients in the physician offices with referrals to the asthma education program and the PReP program as appropriate.