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Centenarian Is Grateful For Better Breathing for Life Club

November 27, 2013

Anna Arington Celebrates her 100th BirthdayLast month, as Anna Arington celebrated her 100th birthday, she basked in the support and friendship of members and professionals of Washington Hospital’s Better Breathers, or the Better Breathing for Life Club.  After more than a decade since being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, the blue-eyed senior is enjoying life and a variety of activities.

Using pressurized oxygen as a breathing aid, Ms. Arington continues to maintain a lifestyle that includes competitive duplicate bridge, visits with friends and family, and regular education about chronic lung disease.

“At the Better Breathers meetings we learn from doctors, oxygen suppliers and other speakers…they’re all good speakers,” she says. “I like the social atmosphere and we learn so much.”

Washington Hospital’s Better Breathers for Life Club is a community-based support group focused on education. Guest speakers include primarily doctors and homecare companies that explain the newest homecare devices offered; social events are also scheduled. The Better Breathers gives people with lung disease and their family members a place to get information and meet others with similar problems.

Ms. Arington joins 40 to 60 people, including family members and friends, on the fourth Wednesday of each month (except November and December) in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium in Washington West. The sessions are open to everyone in the community. Afternoon sessions are 1 to 2:45 p.m. Contact the Washington Hospital Pulmonary Rehab Department at 510-494-7025 for more information.

In Ms. Arington’s case, she was diagnosed with COPD after a concerned neighbor noticed that she was suffering from shortness of breath and called 9-1-1. Medical staff determined that she did have lung disease and would benefit from oxygen and other therapies.

“In all these years, I’ve never minded being on oxygen,” notes Ms. Arington. “And, I’ve been fortunate to have doctors and respiratory therapists to help me.”

“There are many participants in our group that require oxygen therapy,” said Sherry Harrington, RT, head of Washington Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehab department and a respiratory therapist at Washington Hospital. “Part of our job is to educate patients on the importance of oxygen therapy and the negative effects on the body of low oxygen levels.”

COPD ranges from mild to very severe.

”A person with mild COPD may not even realize he or she has a breathing problem,” said Ms. Harrington. “Patients will usually wait to see their doctor until the symptoms interfere with their lives in some way and at this point they already have moderate COPD.”

A diagnosis may be made with the aid of a chest X-ray, a Complete Pulmonary Function Test (CPFT) and through blood tests to check for any infections that may be compromising lung health. COPD cannot be cured, and the damage caused to lungs by the disease cannot be reversed, but medical treatments can alleviate symptoms.

COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and, sometimes, asthma. Emphysema happens when the lung’s air sacs start to deteriorate, which is common in smokers. With chronic bronchitis, there is an inflammation of the lungs and airways. Patients typically have excess mucus in their lungs, which also makes breathing difficult.

One remedy for patients who have moderate to severe COPD may be supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen is supplied via a gas tank or a portable oxygen concentrator, allowing patients to maintain mobility and enabling them to continue to enjoy outings, according to Ms. Harrington.

Some of the ways to help control the symptoms of COPD include pursed lip breathing, pacing, being compliant with pulmonary medications and, if necessary, obtaining the appropriate oxygen delivery. All of these can minimize further deterioration of patients’ lungs. 

Washington Hospital’s pulmonary rehabilitation one-on-one program provides education and exercise during a two-month, twice-a-week schedule with two-hour sessions. These sessions include education on lung anatomy, incorporating exercise into the activities of daily living, oxygen therapy if needed, infection control and medications.  Three respiratory specialists in the department work with patients to individualize their treatment plans to achieve optimum lung health.

In the Pulmonary Rehab program, patients with COPD also learn about nutrition which, when incorporated with exercise, helps to develop habits to improve overall health. Creating a food diary and having a dietician from the hospital evaluate their eating habits gives them more insight into what they need to improve, as well as confirm that they are doing it right.

COPD patients need to make sure they see their physicians regularly and get a flu vaccination.

“With exercise and knowledge you can take control of your lung disease instead of letting your lung disease control you. Anna Arington is a great example of this and an inspiration to us all,” notes Ms. Harrington.