Mercy Health Love County - News

Patient Report: Hospital's Breathing Program Saved My Life

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 2013



Building Lung Capacity: Registered Respiratory Therapists Michele Lively (seated), Ron Kimery, and Carolyn Garner, demonstrate exercise equipment used in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program to help lung patients build strength and endurance for better breathing.



Celebrating Graduation: Larry Hartsell follows tradition by putting on hospital scrubs and party beads to celebrate graduation from the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital.
Patient Report: Hospital’s Breathing Program Saved My life
“It’s an excellent program. It probably saved my life,” said Larry Hartsell, speaking about the local hospital’s rehabilitation program for patients with lung disease and breathing problems.
Hartsell, 71, said a chronic, incurable lung condition he incurred in 2005 “was getting worse and worse,” until he acted on the advice of his Ardmore pulmonologist, Dr. Thomas Papin, and enrolled in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital.
“From the time I got up in the morning, I could do nothing but sit in my recliner. I couldn’t walk 100 feet from the house to the shop. I had lost strength in my arms and shoulders and didn’t exercise at all. I was just to the point where I knew I had to do something or I was going to die,” Hartsell said.
The program consists of 36 sessions of two hours each, three days a week, with the hospital’s team of registered respiratory therapists.
Following the 12 weeks of treatment, Hartsell said he no longer needed to be hooked up to portable oxygen day-to-day or ride a motorized scooter everywhere.
“They start you off easy and slow with arm and leg exercises and keep building you up. The therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do, they sit opposite you and do every exercise with you. They are extremely encouraging,” Hartsell said.
“The thing is, anyone can do this on their own, but getting started, you need somebody to say, ‘You need to lift this weight 10 times,’ because sitting at home, the chances are you won’t do it.”
“One important point I learned from the doctor is that I can never get over my illness, but I can learn to live with it, and I learned to live with what I’ve got by doing the breathing and other exercises I learned there,” Hartsell said.
The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital is the only program of its type in southern Oklahoma and accepts patients from around the region.
Registered respiratory therapists Carolyn Garner, Ron Kimery, and Michele Lively bring a combined 100 years of experience to the program.
Care takes place at the new Therapy Building, which is connected by covered walkway to the hospital.
Lung conditions that qualify for pulmonary rehab include COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, bronchiectasis, sarcoidosis, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease, lung cancer and lung cancer surgery, and lung volume reduction surgery before and after lung transplantation.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that slowly robs sufferers of the ability to breathe.
COPD is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after cancer and heart disease. There are treatments, but no cure for the disease.
Asthma can turn suddenly into COPD, but years of cigarette smoke exposure is present in the majority of cases.
Patients must be 100% tobacco free before entering the rehab program, said Garner, program director.
Pulmonary rehabilitation addresses ways to help patients with breathing, moving, and coping with loss of lung capacity.
“With COPD, if you give in to it, life expectancy is shorter. You need to get up and move and exercise. Muscles grab oxygen in order to work. Oxygen must be built up,” Garner said.
Components of the rehabilitation include:
  • Breathing techniques – pursed lip, relaxed diaphragm – to get more oxygen into the lungs and prevent shortness of breath.
  • Excretion techniques for ridding the lungs of excess mucous.
  • Manageable exercises for building upper-body strength and endurance. Equipment includes stationary cycling, walking, treadmill, and hand weights.
  • Aids and shortcuts to avoid the extreme exertion of bending and lifting while performing the normal activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, cooking, or performing household tasks.
  • Practice in ways to control stress and stop panic attacks that can accompany shortness of breath. 
The therapists also work with patients on nutrition, taking medication, and proper use of inhalers and prescribed oxygen.
“We work toward achieving patient goals,” Garner said. “One patient wanted at the end to be able to walk down the road to their mailbox without oxygen. Another wanted to be able to ride in the car again.”
“We retest every 12 visits. Maybe a patient who walked 149 feet could walk 349 feet at their next visit. We’ve never had one who was not appreciative of the program.”

Medicare or private insurance generally covers the cost of pulmonary rehabilitation.

For patients with transportation issues or who believe they can faithfully follow the program on their own, Garner works with them by telephone and may send devices to their home.
She said she remembers Larry Hartsell as a patient who “passed rehab with flying colors and enthusiasm.”
Hartsell said with improved ability to breathe and maneuver on his own, he immediately drove his RV to New Mexico for an extended vacation.
“I’m enjoying my life,” he said. “I’ve slacked off some from my exercises, but I do lift weights while watching TV and go for walks. I keep a package of balloons with me and blow one up several times a day as a good exercise.”
Hartsell has a great-grandson, Zane, age 4, he’s helped raise. “I’ll give anything to stay around for him. He’s my main inspiration.”