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New Ulm Medical Center

New Pulmonary Support Group Helps People Breathe Easier

In June 2011, New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) developed the pulmonary rehab program to help patients manage their chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung diseases. The eight-week program educates members on how to improve their quality of life while coping with lung disease.

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Shari Meyer, occupational therapist (left) and Sandy Kistner, respiratory therapist review a chart on COPD and other common lung diseases with patients in the Pulmonary Rehab program. Now patients with lung disease have another option for support – the Better Breathers Club, which meets monthly at New Ulm Medical Center.

This year, pulmonary patients will find even more support at NUMC. In conjunction with the American Lung Association, NUMC launched the Better Breathers Club. It’s a monthly support group for patients living with COPD or other pulmonary conditions. The free meetings reinforce what patients have learned in the pulmonary rehab program. It also provides support for members of the community who can’t commit to or afford the existing eight-week program.

“There was a huge need within the community for serving people with COPD,” said Sandra Kistner, a respiratory therapist who helps run the programs. “Education brings more quality of life. They learn things they can do to keep themselves healthier. It gives them a little more self-empowerment.”

One of the most important aspects of the program is helping patients feel comfortable with physical exertion.

“If they’re feeling short of breath, they can look down at their monitor and see if they’re short of oxygen,” Kistner said. “People can be short of breath but not short of oxygen. It teaches them that there’s good shortness of breath and bad shortness of breath. It’s amazing what they can do once they know it’s okay to feel the way they feel.” So far, patient feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “I hear that they feel less anxious and more empowered,” Kistner said.

Another goal of the Better Breathers Club will be to strengthen social ties between patients, said Meyer. This is one of the biggest benefits of NUMC’s rehab program, she said. “They learn from each other, which is very powerful.”

Kistner hopes patients with COPD or other lung diseases will enroll in the pulmonary rehab program or attend a meeting of the Better Breathers Club. There they’ll be exposed to information and support so they can live well with their condition.

“There’s always a way to improve your quality of life,” Kistner said. “Some people’s personal goal is just to walk from their door to their mailbox, or to grocery shop for themselves. We give them ways to do that. It’s a way of taking your life back.”

Pulmonary rehab program recap

During the eight-week pulmonary rehab program, patients attend 16 sessions of two hours each. At each session, a specialist from NUMC teaches patients about breathing techniques, anxiety-reducing techniques, home equipment options, energy conservation techniques, medication management, nutritional tips, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Patients also receive a home exercise program from occupational therapist Shari Meyer. She also helps run the pulmonary rehab programs. Patients participate in exercise classes while Meyer monitors their heart rate and oxygen levels. Then she recommends at-home exercises based on that assessment.

“The most rewarding part is hearing about an activity that a patient hasn’t been able to do in a while. Now they can because they’ve learned how to breathe during the exercise, and they can carry that breathing technique over to any activity,” Meyer said.

For more information about the pulmonary rehab program, talk to your primary care provider. For more information about the Better Breathers Club, call 507-217-5128.