A man smiling gently on a treadmill, thinking about lungs.

My Experience With Pulmonary Rehab

I was about 6 months into my second round of pulmonary hypertension (PH) therapy when I started to feel like I could finally see some independence returning into my life. And by independence, I mean cooking a meal and getting dressed without needing to take a break. I was still learning my symptoms and what this new diagnosis meant for the long term.

My symptoms developed slowly over time

To be honest, I was terrified and so out of touch with my body. My primary symptoms manifested as chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate. They had developed so slowly over time that I had become used to living with them. I couldn’t remember how it felt to not have my heart beat out of my chest when doing any sort of activity. The symptoms I begun to learn as normal were actually signs that my body was severely struggling.

I did know for a fact that just shopping at Target was exhausting! I really had no concept of how much activity was too much. When I found out how severe my PH was, and the consequences it had on my heart, I was scared to do anything! I am stubborn to the point where I won’t let anyone tell me I can’t do something. For me to actually admit I was scared says enough.

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My PH specialist asked me about my goals

I distinctly remember a follow-up appointment with my PH specialist around this time, and he was asking me for long- and short-term goals. First of all, I was shocked! No one has ever asked me once about my own personal goals. Secondly, I had absolutely no idea. What was even achievable?

I said some pretty basic things — actually go shopping in a store, bring my groceries in by myself, ride my bike, go hiking, return back to work as a physical therapist. All things I 1000 percent took for granted prior to my diagnosis.

Pulmonary rehab was a game changer for me

The one thing I was confident in was my knowledge of exercise and its benefits. I asked my doctor if pulmonary rehab was beneficial for PH patients, and I was at my first visit a week later.

Pulmonary rehab was a huge game changer for me. Not only did I feel confident in my abilities and learn my limits, but I gained so much more independence. I moved through each day quicker and with ease. I even enjoyed going to Target after rehab for some retail therapy!

Before rehab, I couldn't even do a lap around the store

I spent a total of 12 weeks in rehab. The first session was just an evaluation with typical history review, vitals, 6-minute walk test, and a gym tour. My following visits were 2 times per week for about an hour. I was hooked up to telemetry, and my heart rate and oxygen were constantly monitored throughout my exercises.

The gym was pretty small, with a mix of treadmills, bikes, steppers, and other cardio equipment. I started off slow to get an understanding of how I felt in response to what my vitals showed. Before I knew it, I was exercising for 45 to 60 minutes straight! I meant it when I said Target was exhausting! Before rehab, I couldn’t even do a lap around the store without multiple breaks and a shopping cart.

Different from a typical gym experience

I always felt comfortable pushing boundaries in rehab because I was being closely monitored by respiratory therapists. I was probably the youngest patient by decades, but I had a good time with my "rehab friends." Some were on continuous oxygen, others had a low exercise tolerance, but we all encouraged each other to do our best! This was very much different from a typical gym experience!

Rehab gave me the confidence to do more

I had an incredibly positive experience with pulmonary rehab, and that gave me the confidence to push my boundaries with PH even further! About a year after my stint of rehab, I was able to complete a 3-mile hike at over 6,000-ft elevation! I’m from New Orleans, so my lungs are used to being below sea level. There is no way I would have had the confidence to even look at that hike without my rehab experience.

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