Respiratory rehab program gives clients confidence to breathe easier again

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This past summer, Gloria Stock climbed a cliff in Newfoundland and today, she’s leading a virtual trek across Canada, all thanks to the help she received from the Lakeridge Health Regional Respiratory Rehabilitation Program. “For years, I struggled with just breathing,” says the 62-year-old Bowmanville resident. “Now I feel better overall. I have more energy.”

Diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) nine years ago, Gloria said her health was declining until her respirologist referred her to the program in January. After eight weeks of education and regular exercise closely monitored by a multi-disciplinary team, Gloria graduated into the maintenance portion of the program.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, she reports to the lower level of the Courtice Health Centre for her regular workout: 10 minutes each on two different stationary bikes and a treadmill, with sets of weights in between. “You get to meet other people with lung-related issues. We have a little bit of a social circle going on now,” says Gloria, who often wraps up her workout with breakfast at a nearby restaurant with a friend she met in the program.

In June, she convinced her colleagues and staff to embark on a Virtual Cross-Canada Trek both as a fun motivator and a chance to raise donations for the program. “It just kind of popped out of my mouth one day when I was on the treadmill,” Gloria explains. “I said something like, our legs are probably going to be so strong we could do a trek across Canada.”

The group launched their virtual walk from Vancouver, British Columbia at the beginning of September and in two weeks had clocked enough kilometers as a collective on the bikes and treadmills to cross the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. They hope to make it all the way into Durham Region by Nov. 19, to celebrate World COPD Day.

Staff, (made up of physiotherapist Karen Johnson, respiratory therapist Suzanne McVety and clerical support Angela Horton) have charted the group’s course on a map of Canada that hangs on the wall inside the gym and are posting interesting information about various ports along the way to further motivate walkers.

“So far, it has worked well,” says Karen Johnson. On average, about 25 to 30 walkers from the maintenance program take part in the virtual trek, attending twice a week. They are joined by another 18 participants in the regular program, who attend three times a week. Together, they are making their virtual way across Canada at an impressive rate of 600 km/week, with maintenance walkers clocking about 400 km/week alone.

The majority of participants have COPD and some even exercise while using oxygen provided to them by the program. “While we’ve had some clients who have asked to go faster or longer on the treadmill to further our distance, we still want to teach them to pace themselves to keep their breathing in control,” says Karen. “But it’s been a great motivator for attendance.”

That’s the biggest pay-off for the program, although some walkers like Gloria have taken it upon themselves to collect sponsorship from family and friends. Those walkers will get their name on the program’s donor wall with a Maple Leaf beside it to mark their trek.

Lakeridge Health funds the program, but from time to time, it receives donations from clients who have benefitted from taking part. They help pay commuter costs for clients who need help in getting to the sessions, exercise equipment and cooling fans. “Lung disease leads to inactivity which often becomes a downward spiral for those who have been diagnosed,” Karen explains. “People don’t want to do things because they become short of breath, but the less you do, the harder everything becomes.”

The Lakeridge Health Regional Respiratory Rehabilitation Program tries to help its clients achieve a maximum level of health and function while also teaching them how to live with their lung disease. “I often tell people we can’t repair damaged lung tissue but we can strengthen other body systems such as their muscles. Research has proven that when you strengthen the muscle you can break that downward spiral, leading to less shortness of breath and improvement in one’s quality of life,” says Karen.

Health experts are also beginning to realize the links between lung disease and depression. By taking part in the program, clients build confidence in their abilities again while developing friendships with others facing similar challenges. “We’re also getting them out of the house two to three times a week and into a social setting,” adds Karen. “Our clients motivate and encourage one another.”

Graduates of the maintenance program have gone on to establish their own exercise groups at other gyms like Durham Family YMCA and the Legends Centre, both in Oshawa. As for Gloria, like all clients, she’ll be reassessed at the end of her six months with the program, to determine if she’s ready to graduate, a moment she’s not hoping for anytime soon. “I’m going to keep coming as long as they have me,” she says. “I really strongly believe in it.”

For more information about the Lakeridge Health Regional Respiratory Rehabilitation Program, contact 905-576-8711, ext. 4349.