Undertaking activities that most of us take for granted like walking, dressing, gardening and cleaning, have become more achievable for several Northlanders with chronic lung disease thanks to our Better Breathing Programme.
Participants referred to the pulmonary rehabilitation programme offered in Whangārei and Kaikohe by their GP or specialist undergo an assessment by a physiotherapist to create an individual programme based on what they want to achieve before they begin the seven-week Programme.
A commitment of two hourly sessions twice a week to get the full value of each session, which comprises an exercise component focusing on improving physical condition and an hour’s education to assist them in managing their specific condition covering the following topics:
• What is COPD/Lung Disease
• Breathing techniques/managing breathlessness
• Sputum clearance
• Energy conservation techniques
• Relaxation, how to manage depression, anxiety and
• Nutrition/ healthy eating
• Breathing while speaking and swallowing
• Social services.
Our Allied Health Service in Te Tai Tokerau run the Programme, which involves physiotherapists, dieticians, social workers, speech-language therapists and rongoā Māori practitioners.
At the end of the course, patients will be re-assessed to measure improvements and then given a plan to help them maintain the benefits gained over the seven weeks.
Exercise sessions usually start with an aerobic activity like walking or cycling, followed by resistance training,balance exercises and stretching. Over the weeks, exercises will change as patients get fitter and stronger.
Once they have confidence, they will be given a home exercise routine for the days they don’t attend the Programme.
The participants we spoke to said the Better Breathing Programme had been life-changing for them, and they all felt very fortunate to learn from a range of allied health professionals who all offer different support, improving their capacity to breathe and improve their quality of life.
Brian Mills first attended the Kaikohe programme when he was first diagnosed with COPD, but because he was working at the time, he couldn’t commit to attending twice a week, so he did some of the activities at home. After a chest infection, his condition worsened in October last year, and he began being assessed for a lung transplant. In June, he was told he was a good candidate for a transplant but needed to get stronger,
so he returned to the class again.
He said because the team have so much understanding and experience, not just around exercise but everything from anxiety to diet and explaining the importance of exercise on breathing and muscles, it has been so helpful and hugely important to him.
Brian’s partner Keren Bar attends the classes with him and said they didn’t realise how many aspects there were to rehabilitation.
“Learning about some accessories we can use has made life much easier. The bed riser (wedge) has changed Brian’s experience at night, and showering used to be a real struggle for him to get in and out and dry himself, but now he has a chair inside and outside the shower to support him,” said Keren.
“We really enjoy and appreciate being able to come to the class because it gives us extra tools to get through, and it’s always so reassuring.”
After being referred to Te Whatu Ora’s respiratory nurse, Suzi Penney was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema around seven years ago and assessed for a lung transplant. Suzi was told she had to be healthy enough to survive, but her lungs had to be bad enough to qualify.
“I also had to lose weight, which I did, but I put it back on when COVID hit. Luckily, I’ve been able to join this Programme 5-6 times over the years because it’s so beneficial,” said Suzi. “I don’t know what we would do without these guys – the whole team. They not only help us with our breathing but also give us confidence, and I can’t speak more highly of them.”
When Wai Raunatiri was transferred to Te Whatu Ora’s Respiratory Service from the Cancer & Blood Service after having a right-side pneumonectomy (right lungremoved) due to lung cancer, he was offered a place on the Programme, which he is very thankful for.
He chuckled when mentioning that after participating in the Programme, he found out he had been breathing wrong. Now his breathing has calmed, which his family have also noticed, and he feels much better.
Wai said before he went in for lung surgery, the surgeon told him there was a 20 percent chance of coming out alive, so he’s very happy to be around and explained there’s no point in getting down and out.
Both he and Suzie noted their GPs have made a conscious effort to also learn more about theirconditions, so it has been a learning curve for everyone.
Professional Leader Physiotherapy Nateele Howarth helped design the Programme, which is offered to any patient with confirmed lung disease (e.g. COPD, bronchiectasis, chronic asthma, interstitial lung disease) who is breathless on exertion, and it is even suitable for patients with very severe respiratory disease.
“The class is designed to run anywhere, including community halls, marae’s, or even at home. All participants need is a chair and a Theraband, so we plan to offer some classes via telehealth eventually and in Kaitaia, Whangaroa and Kerikeri when we have the staffing capacity,” Nateele said.