Covenant Health
This week's reflection

This week's reflection

I believe the second half of one's life is meant to be better than the first half. The first half is finding out how you do it. And the second half is enjoying it.

Frances Lear

Pulmonary Rehab Program empowers COPD patients to improve lung wellness close to home

July 13, 2015

 15 July12 Covh St Donna

Fort McMurray resident overcomes limitations of COPD with a smile thanks to the WBPCN Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.

In 2000, Donna was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD – a lung condition that reduces your ability to breathe, leaving you perpetually short of breath. It is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, and it affects more than 1.5 million Canadians.

While COPD alone is a challenging and debilitating condition, Donna also has a history of heart disease; she’s had not one, but two open-heart surgeries.

“I could only walk maybe three or four steps before having to stop.”

But Donna smiles. Her story is already sneaking through, betrayed by her use of the past tense.

“Donna was a participant in the WBPCN Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program,” explains Respiratory Therapist Melissa Tracey. “The program is eight-weeks long, and features monitored exercise, medication management, and education. Patients work one-on-one with me, an exercise specialist, and a pharmacist. Stories like Donna’s, they’re exactly what you hope for as a clinician.”

“Not even halfway through the program, four weeks in, I had already improved,” Donna beams, “I can climb the entire set of stairs now, 28 of them, up to the gym. I haven’t been able to do that in over a decade!"

“We focus on endurance and breathing techniques; the idea is to use less energy to perform the same tasks that you were struggling with before. We can’t cure COPD, but we can strengthen all of your other muscles, including the diaphragm and the heart, so that the workload to the lungs isn’t as great. In eight weeks, we can condition our patients to overcome limitations they’ve lived with for years.”

“I’ve waited almost 14 years for a program like this,” stresses Donna, “I was diagnosed with lung issues in 2000, and I’ve always had asthma, as well. I searched online, I looked everywhere for help like this. There isn’t any. I’ve been in Fort McMurray for forty years, and let me tell you, this is it. There’s never been anything like this.”

Prior to the launch of the WBPCN’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, there were no comparable programs or services for COPD patients available in Fort McMurray. All that was available to Donna were the respiratory services provided to patients who were ill enough to require acute care – a situation that Melissa is all too familiar with: “When I worked in the hospital before moving into Primary Care, I had so many patients, I didn’t have the time to sit and do a lot of teaching. We had enough time to treat our patients to the point where they were well enough to leave. But now, at the WBPCN, we get them well enough to live.”

Even though Donna completed her eight-week rehabilitation program months ago, she continues to visit Melissa twice a week. “I get to monitor her, and because we’ve developed this longer-term care relationship, I can notice trends in her health. This is change. This is recovery. She’s such a lively, spirited woman, and it’s a privilege to help her to be her most active self.”

“These girls, [respiratory therapist] Melissa and [exercise specialist] Rajeanne, are terrific. If you’ve been recommended to participate in this program, I say: get down here. Pulmonary Rehab is great. We need more of it, not just in this city, but all over Canada.”

The program was launched in 2015 under the leadership of the Family Physicians of Fort McMurray, in collaboration with the G.F. MacDonald Centre for Lung Health in Covenant Health’s Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. Now, patients in the Fort McMurray community can connect with pulmonologists (lung specialists) for assessments over Telehealth, which was launched from the G.F. MacDonald Centre for Lung Health and is now available at 17 sites in Alberta. They can then improve their lung wellness in the WBPCN’s 8-week Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, a treatment model that has been shown to be more effective than traditional pharmacological management. With the care of our clinicians, patients like Donna can discover their own success stories, right here at home.

Since its inception in 2005, the WBPCN has been committed to developing and delivering healthcare programs tailored to the needs of our community.

Learn more about the WBPCN Lung Rehabilitation Program 

Read more about the G.F. MacDonald Centre for Lung Health