Oliver Williams had always been athletic. So, when simply getting dressed left him winded, he knew something was very wrong. In March, the former law enforcement professional learned he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a serious lung disease that makes breathing harder over time. “People think that you can’t have a breathing problem if you look healthy,” he says.
It was Williams’ second brush with bad news in less than a year. In 2008, a 40-year smoking habit caught up with him, and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His cancer treatment was a success, but mere months later, Williams received the COPD diagnosis.
His doctor referred him to the pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) program at Valley Hill Therapy Center, a service of Botsford Hospital. Williams credits starting pulmonary rehab as the turning point in his treatment. “They taught me how to breathe again,” he says. The outpatient program includes supervised exercise, instruction in guided breathing techniques and individualized education on living with COPD, all provided by a highly trained, multidisciplinary staff.
COPD is a lifelong disease. But, people with COPD can learn to improve their quality of life by working with Botsford’s expert physicians and therapists.
With COPD, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs become partially blocked, so less air gets in. Additionally, tiny air sacs inside the lungs may be damaged, making it harder to pull oxygen from the air and put it into the blood. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, a nagging cough and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
The effects on breathing are subtle at first, says John Darin, R.R.T., director of respiratory care at Valley Hill. “Often, people don’t notice anything is wrong until they feel short of breath and excessively tired after ordinary activities, such as climbing stairs. By that point,” says Darin, “the disease is already fairly far advanced.”
Medical treatments and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can slow COPD’s progress. They can also help people with COPD feel better and stay more active.
Botsford has many specialists trained in caring for lung diseases, including COPD. Our team understands the condition and knows how to tailor a long-term treatment plan to individual needs. Outpatient, inpatient and emergency room care for COPD is available when you need it.
If you have moderate to severe COPD, outpatient pulmonary rehab also can be beneficial. The specialized programs at Valley Hill help you make the most of your lung capacity, so you can continue to enjoy your favorite activities. “Half my battle is convincing people who have a hard time getting from the living room to the bedroom that they can actually exercise,” says Wilfred VanderRoest, D.O., medical director at Valley Hill. It’s a personalized 12-week program. You’ll work one-on-one with a licensed respiratory therapist two to three sessions a week. After rehab, most patients find that they can indeed exercise. And, their quality of life improves because of it.
Valley Hill is one of the few pulmonary rehab programs in the area. In addition to respiratory therapy, the center also offers physical therapy. To take part in the program, you’ll need a referral from your doctor.
Treatment for COPD may also include medications. Some medications relax the muscles around the airways, opening them wider so it’s easier for air to get through. In some cases, oxygen therapy is suggested. This involves breathing in extra oxygen from a tank. Many patients are more active and rest better at night because of oxygen therapy.
Occasionally, you might experience symptom flare-ups. This might happen if you catch the flu or are around irritating smoke or fumes. Seek help immediately if you have severe difficulty catching your breath or talking, or if you have blue or gray lips or fingernails. The Botsford Emergency Center is well-equipped to handle such breathing emergencies.
Ordinarily, though, you’ll be managing COPD at home. To stay as healthy as possible, you need to work closely with your doctor and follow your treatment every day. Also, your doctor may suggest flu and pneumonia vaccinations for you.
Diagnosis: First Step to Better Health
The first step to getting treatment for COPD is an accurate diagnosis. A simple breathing test called spirometry measures airflow—how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. This test can detect COPD even before the symptoms become pronounced. When more extensive testing is needed, a complete pulmonary function test can be done at Valley Hill.
By the end of Williams’ rehab, he was benefitting from the exercise and support so much that he opted to keep coming for an aftercare program. “More people need to know about this,” he says. “I couldn’t do what I do now without it.”
Find out more about pulmonary rehabilitation. Call (248) 442-2565 for a FREE brochure about Valley Hill Therapy Center.
FREE Lung Screening
Worried about your breathing? Come in for a FREE pulmonary screening test. Call Valley Hill Therapy Center at (313) 387-3800 for an appointment.