What I Learned in Pulmonary Rehab

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by Lara Govendo |

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I learned about pulmonary rehabilitation during my evaluation for a double-lung transplant in 2015-16. I didn’t know that a program existed to help me learn how to navigate life with low lung function. I had mixed feelings about joining, but soon found that it was the key to better health.

Next week, we celebrate Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week. Pulmonary rehab is a secret society that doesn’t get much publicity because it’s typically invitation only. I was invited to join because it was mandatory ahead of my transplant, which took place in August 2017.

Once I joined the program, I learned that others are invited for several reasons, including both acute health crises and chronic conditions. We’re all adjusting to the breathless life.

I felt ridiculous when I attended pulmonary rehabilitation for the first time. I was the youngest person there, and my lungs were in the worst shape. The math didn’t add up. As I sat in my comfy chair looking around the table, I saw eager eyes hungry to learn new tactics for coping with breathlessness. Maybe we weren’t so different!

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Once I settled in, I got to hear each member’s story. These precious people were twice my age and going through the same struggles I was. We could all relate to the sense of desperation that comes with breathlessness.

As we grieved our former capabilities and shared how we’d attempted to cling to the life we once enjoyed, our eyes filled with tears. These people were also struggling to adjust to a “new normal,” conserve their energy, and embrace life with low lung function. Although different circumstances had led us there, we connected over our shared experiences, and I realized that age is irrelevant.

We shared a sense of camaraderie, laughing and joking as if we’d always known one another. We drew strength from encouraging and cheering on one another’s progress. Even when we took one step forward and three steps back, we helped one another keep going. There wasn’t any competition, only a deep sense of being in it together.

At the time, my health was unstable, which meant that I couldn’t attend consistently. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t complete the program requirements. Despite my best efforts, my failing lungs kept knocking me back into the hospital. As the cycle repeated, my frustration built. It was impossible to measure gains when I couldn’t keep up with the pace of an outpatient program.

Thankfully, I had an awesome respiratory therapist and physical therapist. They each worked with me one-on-one so that I could finish the program and get my certification of completion, a necessary step in the transplant evaluation process.

I learned a lot in pulmonary rehab that I wish I had been taught as a kid with lung disease. Pursed lip breathing saved my ability to exercise. Strengthening my muscles improved my breathing and helped me build endurance in preparation for transplant.

I also learned that I could exercise more while on oxygen. I didn’t need to deprive my body of this vital tool. I was fortunate to exercise under the supervision of medical professionals, which gave me a safety net as I tested my abilities and enabled me to push myself further than I would have on my own.

I’m thankful for my positive experience with pulmonary rehabilitation. Even though my circumstances were excruciating, the healthcare professionals helped me see my condition in a different light. They ignited courage and confidence within me and taught me how to live with low lung function. Building strength despite my situation was empowering, and that made all the difference in my transplant and recovery.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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