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Pulmonary Rehabilitation Focuses on Better Breathing for Better Living


The theme of the 2014 Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week (March 9-15) is “Better Breathing, Better Living.” The week recognizes the healthcare providers who guide and support the rehabilitation of individuals with lung disease such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, sarcoidosis, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation team at Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) has helped many— including Marge Higgins. Marge was referred to the program following hospitalization for two Transient Ischemic Attacks or mini-strokes, which exacerbated her pre-existing COPD and high blood pressure. Marge began going to the Cardio Pulmonary Rehabilitation gym in Biddeford for two, 60-minute sessions a week with supervision and guidance from a friendly and professional team of caregivers.

The SMHC Pulmonary Rehabilitation team is comprised of physicians, respiratory therapists, nurses, exercise professionals and dietitians who work together with each participant to develop a program of exercise and education that focuses on improving their physical fitness and quality of life. Using aerobic exercise, strength training and breathing techniques, participants are able to improve their ability to perform everyday activities, reduce breathlessness and maximize their independence. Education and support are provided to assist individuals in the development of healthy lifestyles that promote physical and emotional well-being.  

At first Marge was leery about starting the program. She remembers, “I was nervous to do Pulmonary Rehabilitation because I didn’t understand how much it could help me.” But minutes into her very first session she fell in love with the program and couldn’t wait to go back. She looked forward to her time in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Gym and began to notice a significant improvement in her health. As she describes, “I was not only back to normal, I felt better than ever. I was stronger, happier, and healthier. My blood pressure went down and stayed down for the first time in 10 years and I was able to breathe without strain.”

Last month Marge graduated from the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program and is now able to utilize the gym that she’s grown to love five days a week as she continues her journey in better breathing and better living. Marge says about her experience, “Pulmonary Rehabilitation was an absolute joy. It was fun as well as a challenge. I was able to work myself up on the machines as I felt comfortable and I felt such a sense of accomplishment in my progress. Now I am able to continue my success by visiting the gym (SMHC LifeFitness Program) to continue to build on the invaluable foundation that the Rehabilitation program provided.”

The goal of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs at both SMHC’s Medical Centers in Biddeford and Sanford is to promote healthy choices that allow individuals to live full, active lives. As Marge reflected on her own experience, she said that the most significant step was committing to the program. “The key is you have to want to get better. The help is there but you have to be the one to make the most of it.”

Individuals experiencing shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, and decreased physical abilities, may attribute these symptoms to “getting older.” These complaints are often the first signs of chronic lung disease. Individuals with these symptoms should talk to their primary care provider. Simple spirometry testing is available to assist physicians in identifying persons who have COPD. Because the number one cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, the single most important thing anyone can do to improve their health is to quit smoking.

If you are a smoker and would like to quit, SMHC offers the “Be Tobacco Free” Smoking Cessation Program by appointment and free of charge. For more information, call 283-7988.

SMHC also encourages any member of the community affected by lung disease to join the Better Breathers Club of Southern Maine, a support group which meets the second Wednesday of each month from 1:00–2:30pm at 9 Healthcare Drive in Biddeford. For more information, call 283-7773.

About Southern Maine Health Care
Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) is a national award-winning healthcare system, including two acute care medical centers; one in Biddeford, Maine licensed for 150 beds and one in Sanford, Maine, licensed for 58 beds. SMHC offers excellent clinical care and a multi-specialty physician services group with medical offices providing outpatient care located in Biddeford, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Sanford and Waterboro. Eldercare services are provided through four sites located in Sanford. Non-emergency care is available at Walk-In Care centers in Saco and Waterboro. SMHC is Joint Commission accredited, Pathway to Excellence designated, state-licensed, and is a member of the MaineHealth system. To learn more visit or @smhcHealth on Twitter.

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