Breathing Easier with Pulmonary Rehab
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2020, 07

Breathing Easier with Pulmonary Rehab

The first time SVMC's Pulmonary Rehab (PR) Program Coordinator Caitlyn Boyd, DPT, met “John,” he was living life at the mercy of his COPD. 

“Like so many of the COPD patients we see,” she says, “His life was very limited. He hadn’t worked in a year due to his condition. Basic life tasks, like walking to the car or getting up to use the restroom, had become a struggle.” 

After his fourth admission to the hospital in as many months, John finally decided enough was enough and took his doctor’s advice to enlist in SVMC’s PR program. 

“When John first came to us, he had some significant challenges,” recalls Boyd, “but, more importantly, he had deep desire to regain control of his life.”

At age 60 and a lifelong smoker, John entered his first day of PR on oxygen. 

“You could tell he was a bit nervous,” says Boyd. “Lots of patients tend to be intimidated by the equipment they see in our gym. They think, ‘I can’t even walk to the fridge, how am I going to get on a treadmill?’ But, like we told John, through a combination of education and exercise, we’re going to gradually build your stamina and teach you ways to manage your breathing issues.”

John’s first bi-weekly sessions lasted about an hour and consisted of a slow warm-up, a few minutes of exercise on each machine (treadmill, recumbent stepper and arm bike) all followed by a rest break, with education about COPD provided throughout. 

“During the sessions, we monitored both his heart rate and oxygen levels to ensure he wasn’t overdoing it,” says Boyd. At the end of the 8-week program, John no longer needed oxygen for activities of daily living or to exercise. 

“For many people, the idea of exercise for breathing issues seems counterintuitive,” notes Boyd. “The tendency is to do less when you have trouble breathing. But the less you do, the less capable your body becomes at taking in and using oxygen efficiently. Exercise and the use of proper breathing techniques, however, help you build stamina and actually give you back control of your breathing. And in John’s case, he also met with a smoking cessation specialist who helped him quit smoking and further improve his lung function.”

After the initial structured program, John began a PR Maintenance Program 2 days per week for an hour or more.  This included supervised exercise and support from either physical therapy or nursing staff that are a part of the first 8-week session. 

Today, John continues with that program and has also taken a part-time job, walks regularly with his wife, and is enjoying a much more active and engaged lifestyle.  He is able to manage his COPD and breathing as challenges arise.  

“As inspiring as John’s story is—and it is,” says Boyd, “It’s not that unusual. PR can really be life-changing for anyone suffering with COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, and other chronic lung conditions. In fact, only 2 percent of PR participants with COPD end up being re-admitted to the SVMC hospital for breathing flare ups compared to the 19 percent of patients with COPD who do NOT participate in PR.”  

As for John, he’s happy to report he hasn’t been to the ER once in the past 6 months.

To learn more about SVMC's Pulmonary Rehab program—which is open and seeing patients in a safe, socially distanced manner—please contact Caitlyn Boyd, DPT, at (802) 447-5140 or email  

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