couldn't walk up a flight of stairs; I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even take a shower." That's how Eugene Heerey described his condition before he began Winthrop's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the beginning of September. By October 24, Mr. Heerey realized his dream of walking his daughter down the aisle and dancing with her on her wedding day.
Eugene Heerey took center stage as father of the bride.
"I was able to dance the whole dance with her!" he said. "I never saw so many tears at a wedding in my life."
Diagnosed with emphysema in 1992, Mr. Heerey was forced to give up construction work. His condition deteriorated to the point where he was beginning to fear leaving his house. "I was afraid that if I ran into someone I knew, I wouldn't be able to talk without running out of breath," he said.
Encouraged by both his daughter and his physician, Jonathan Ilowite, MD, Medical Director, Pulmonary Rehabilitation and Respiratory Therapy Department, Mr. Heerey joined Winthrop's eight-week Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, where he benefited from small, professionally led groups.
"The program has three components - supervised exercise, education, and group support," explained Mara Bernstein, RRT, Administrative Director, Outpatient Services, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. Patients attend the program three days a week, for two hours per session.
One hour of each session is dedicated to exercise. Under direct supervision of a physical therapist, patients slowly increase their endurance on a treadmill or bicycle while listening to "big band" music.
"We can't change a patient's lung disease; if they have emphysema, they have it for life," Ms. Bernstein noted. "However, exercise can help optimize their lung function and prevent them from getting worse."
Formal educational lectures give patients the knowledge they need to effectively manage their conditions and the complications that arise. Topics include breathing re-training, dietary concerns, medication use, traveling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), health care proxies, conserving energy, relaxation and stress management, and the effect of the environment on breathing disorders.
Finally, group support helps patients adjust to lifestyle modifications that are often dictated by their illness. "Group support helps patients learn to communicate with their families so they can get the help they need," said Ms. Bernstein. "It can help patients deal with common feelings like anxiety, self-blame, fear, and depression, simply by showing them that they are not alone."
Chronic breathing conditions can lead to changes in interpersonal relationships and family roles, which can be especially difficult for many people to handle. "Often patients have to relinquish some of their traditional family and household responsibilities, and that can be emotionally difficult for people," said Ms. Bernstein.
For Mr. Heerey, the thought of not being able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day was a powerful motivator. So was his inability to play with his two grandchildren, a new baby and a four-year-old.
"I'm able to pick my granddaughter up from school two days a week now," Mr. Heerey enthused. "I have greater stamina, and I'm more involved with my family."
Those family ties are pulling Mr. Heerey and his wife overseas, back to Ireland, Mr. Heerey's home until 1955. He hopes to return there this summer to attend his nephew's wedding, and perhaps enjoy a dance with someone special.
For additional information on Winthrop's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, call (516) 663-2579.