Learning to Breathe Again After Life-Threatening Complications from Asthma

By Meredith Whittemore

Breathing is something most people do without thinking. Not Joseph Bolin.

Bolin battled asthma for years but his breathing worsened significantly after he developed idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable and potentially deadly lung disease that scars the lungs.

“I was at a point where it was really impacting my quality of life. I really couldn’t breathe and it was just getting worse,” Bolin said.

Bolin needed a lung transplant. His physician recommended pulmonary rehabilitation before the transplant to improve his breathing and prepare his body for the stress of transplant surgery.

“Pulmonary rehabilitation improves quality of life, symptoms and, most importantly, pulmonary function in patients who have chronic lung diseases. Most of the current evidence suggests that pulmonary rehabilitation should be included in management of patients with advanced lung diseases,” said Bindu Akkanti, MD, the medical director of the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Memorial Herman-Texas Medical Center, and an assistant professor of critical care for McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Pulmonary Rehab Program Helps Patients with Lung Diseases

Dr. Akkanti and faculty from the UT Division of Critical Care Medicine at McGovern Medical School started the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Memorial Hermann to help patients ailing from lung diseases.

“Our pulmonary rehab program is supported by a multidisciplinary team that creates a customized plan for each individual based on their lung function and illness,” said Rhonda Leaverton, RN, BSN, the manager of the program. “Each person gets a personalized exercise regimen and attends educational courses on everything from nutrition to understanding and using oxygen therapy.”

Ensuring His Body Was Getting Enough Oxygen

Bolin enrolled in the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Memorial Hermann-TMC, and continued even after having his lung transplant.

“For me, the biggest benefit of going to rehab was it forces you to do a certain level of exercise,” Bolin said. “You’re closely monitored during your exercise and the therapists are making sure your heart’s working well and you’re getting enough oxygen. If you’re doing it on your own, you could be doing it wrong. If something starts to go wrong here, the therapist will catch it. Being monitored is a comfort that also helps you push as hard as you possibly can.”

Getting His Life Back

Leaverton said many patients also find emotional support at their sessions.

“I know many of our patients like being around other people who can relate to what life is like with a chronic pulmonary illness. They will share what works for them and it helps them,” Leaverton said.

Bolin said pulmonary rehab has helped him get his life back.

“I’m off the oxygen. I’m driving myself. I’m able to do more for myself. That not only makes me happy, but it makes my wife happy, too,” he said.

Learn more about Memorial Hermann’s pulmonary rehabilitation program.  Discover how this regimen of progressively intensive physical therapy and nutritional, educational and psychological counseling   is helping people improve their overall quality of life and maintain maximum independence.

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