COPD Patients Breathe in Benefits of Fitness

September 06, 2018

​Just a few months ago, Jim Kenny would have described himself as fragile. He couldn't walk to the end of his lane to take out the garbage. He was depressed with no social life and dwindling independence. "I was in desperate shape."

For Byron Ducharme, 76, taking a shower and putting on socks and shoes were herculean feats that would leave him exhausted.

And at only 52, Dawn Kennedy's extreme low energy had taken a toll on her mental health. She was perpetually sad. Quality of life was "deteriorating rapidly."

For each of these individuals, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had slowly imprisoned them in their homes and bodies. Needing increasing help and medical care, they felt isolated and bleak. Battling for every breath, many of life's pleasures had slowly slipped out of reach.

But on a warm sunny day in Gibbons Park in London, Ontario, Jim, Byron, Dawn and about 45 others tossed a ball around and played games in the shade of a pavilion. Jim was up on his feet with a walker, foregoing his usual wheelchair. Strangers had become friends. There were smiles, laughter and camaraderie, and an undeniable sense of confidence and hope.

All are participants in St. Joseph's Health Care London's COPD Program, which includes education, pulmonary fitness training and an exercise maintenance program. While many thought exercise was impossible, all are now rediscovering joys that had eluded them for years.

"Most people who join the program believe they can't exercise", says nurse practitioner Laurie Loveland. "Often short of breath and tired, many individuals with COPD tend to avoid being active. We have patients who could do less than a minute on the treadmill who are now up to 30 minutes. We have patients who couldn't walk from the hospital's entrance to our program who are now walking up to the gym."

While St. Joseph's has provided care and education for those with pulmonary disease for decades, a shift at St. Joseph's Hospital to predominantly outpatient care and a robust  focus on chronic disease management has programs coming together in new ways to address the needs of patients living with multiple chronic conditions. As a result, the COPD Program has recently been rebooted and expanded with added emphasis on pulmonary fitness. Patients are assessed and individualized exercise programs developed in collaboration with St. Joseph's Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention (CRSP) Program. The COPD patients begin their exercise regimen using the exercise facility at St. Joseph's Hospital now shared by the CRSP and COPD Program.

Read the full story on St. Joseph's website.

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