Steamboat Springs Most of us take breathing for granted.
Except, perhaps, when we shovel snow, do aerobic exercises or suffer from temporary nasal congestion. Then, we start to realize how nice it is not to have to consciously think about breathing.
But what if you couldn't catch your breath, even after you rested or your cold cleared up? What if the slightest exertion caused you to repeatedly gasp for breath? If you can imagine that feeling, you have a pretty clear picture of what it is like for some people who have chronic lung disease.
Bob DeVries, a longtime Steamboat Springs resident, thinks about his breathing many times a day. He requires oxygen therapy that is delivered to his lungs by a nasal cannula and plastic tubing attached to an oxygen tank.
Not long ago, the 82-year-old DeVries was frequently short of breath, especially when he tried to exercise. Now, he works out three times a week, goes out to dinner with his wife, Barb, every Friday night, and does "pretty much anything I want to do except have a job," he says.
This increase in quality of life is due to his participation in the Pulmonary Rehab program at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
"Shortness of breath and inability to breathe is a terribly scary thing," YVMC Director of Respiratory Care Bill Moore said. "There are limited medical options to treat shortness of breath, but pulmonary rehab can have a dramatic impact on quality of life for someone who has lung disease."
Moore said some of his patients feel "as though they have lost the battle with life." They walk in his door depressed, inactive and tethered to an oxygen tank. With the techniques and education they gain in the pulmonary rehab program, their outlook brightens considerably.
"Over the course of the weeks they spend with us, we get our patients up exercising and doing things they never thought they could do again," Moore said.
Respiratory therapist Steve Fowler has primary responsibility for educating and encouraging pulmonary rehab patients. He teaches relaxation techniques, diaphragmatic breathing and coping strategies to combat the anxiety or outright panic that can accompany shortness of breath.
"Our patients see how they can get their breathing under control by working through it with us," Moore said. "After several practice sessions they gain confidence so they can breathe correctly at home or out in the community."
Pulmonary rehab also teaches simple but effective postural exercises that help to open up the lungs and airways. The class shows patients how their lungs are impacted by disease and how they respond to appropriate breathing and posture.
"We do testing when our patients enter the program and again when they're ready to graduate," Moore said. "People show a measurable improvement. Pulmonary rehab is recognized and covered by Medicare because patients who complete the program require less medical care and fewer hospital visits. They are better able to manage their care in partnership with their physicians."
For all of these reasons, Moore said pulmonary rehab is recognized as the standard of care for people who have moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In addition, the YVMC program helps patients with other aspects of living with lung disease, such as medications and insurance reimbursement. The end result is often a reduction in the cost of patients' pharmaceutical prescriptions.
DeVries is glad he took the three-month pulmonary rehab program. He regularly checks his oxygen saturation level to make sure it is at 90 percent or higher.
"If it is below 90, I use my breathing exercises until the number goes up," DeVries said. "Before I took pulmonary rehab, I didn't even know about oxygenation. I couldn't do any exercise and was going through six to eight liters of oxygen a minute.
"Now, I'm down to just two liters when I'm at home and three to three-and-a-half liters when I exercise, so I've cut my oxygen use by more than half. I'm using what I learned every day."
Moore encourages anyone who has breathing problems or questions about pulmonary rehabilitation to talk to a physician or call him at 970- 871-2392.