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FirstHealth Pulmonary Rehabilitation Helps Improve Lung Disease and Long COVID Symptoms

| Date Posted: 3/14/2022

TROY – COVID long-hauler Jason Dunlap was referred to FirstHealth Pulmonary Rehabilitation with lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue and low oxygen levels.


“I couldn’t even walk from the house to the car without having some help,” he said. Dunlap started pulmonary rehabilitation at FirstHealth Montgomery Memorial Hospital (MMH) last November and saw his symptoms improve within a few months. He no longer needs supplemental oxygen and is able to complete daily activities – even walk on the treadmill - with ease.


March 13 – 19 is National Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week and FirstHealth is celebrating the success of pulmonary rehabilitation in helping patients improve their quality of life and raising awareness about the severity of pulmonary disease.


Pulmonary rehabilitation can accelerate the recovery of lung function in patients with COVID-19, a recent study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine found. It is also beneficial for managing a variety of respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and pulmonary fibrosis.


Respiratory diseases make up five of the 30 most common causes of death. An estimated 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD, which is the third leading cause of death worldwide. The Forum of International Respiratory Societies reported exercise-based pulmonary rehabilitation is important for the health of many individuals with COPD and treating coexisting illnesses can extend the life of many.


Sylvia Pilot, a Biscoe resident with COPD and chronic respiratory failure, also found relief with rehabilitation. She has been a patient for more than a year and said it has significantly helped her breathing. “I used to need oxygen 24 hours a day. Now I hardly use it all, except when I’m sleeping at night,” she said. “It has also helped my balance and strength. I can walk a lot better.”


The FirstHealth Pulmonary Rehabilitation program provides:


  • Medical management
  • Education
  • Exercise
  • Emotional support
  • Breathing retraining
  • And relaxation techniques


To enter the program, participants must have a physician referral and be deemed clinically stable by the referring physician. Benefits of the program can include fewer hospitalizations, a decrease in debilitating symptoms, greater optimism and self-esteem and overall improvement in quality of life.


MMH Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator Melissa Furr, RRT, RCP, and co-worker Katie Blake, RRT, RCP II, said they find it rewarding to form a close bond with patients and see how their lives transform.


“We actually see our patients get back to playing with their grandkids, traveling with family and even returning to work,” Furr said. “We are not just health care workers for them. We are their coaches and cheerleaders and offer them help in all areas of life.”  


Dunlap said he was initially skeptical the program would have much of an impact but now recommends it to others with chronic lung issues. “The staff went out of their way to encourage me to keep going and keep trying. If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would’ve pushed myself to be more active,” he said.


To learn more about FirstHealth Pulmonary Rehabilitation at MMH, contact the program coordinators at (910) 571-5277.

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