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Pulmonary rehabilitation gave me a life

Kevin shares his experience of a sudden asthma attack - and how pulmonary rehabilitation gave him back his life.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

On 25 November 2012, my life was completely changed in an instant. That Sunday morning, I suffered a near-fatal asthma attack which caused my heart and breathing to stop. Luckily, a trained first-aider saw my collapse and he performed CPR (for the first time in a real situation!) until the paramedics arrived and brought me to hospital.

I was a 56 year old GP, happily married with two very successful children in their early 20s. I didn’t know I was asthmatic, although I did wheeze on one occasion many years previously when I was in the company of two cats. However, tests performed by my own GP were negative and using inhalers didn't seem to be useful at the time.

Travel and triggers

There were a few things I can think of that could have triggered my asthma attack. Six weeks before my collapse, my wife and I were in Spain where we were exposed to a Sahara dust cloud. The Sahara dust particles are very small and are very irritating to the lungs if you breathe them in.

And on the weekend of my attack, I was with my daughter in Sheffield where she was competing in the national swimming championships. She told me that some people she knew with asthma were struggling with their breathing as there was lots of chlorine content in the air.

My breathing began to get worse on the Saturday, leading to my collapse on the Sunday morning. I was unconscious for 6 hours, and spent the next three weeks in hospital in Sheffield and Birmingham. When I was finally discharged, I was told to take 27 tablets a day and inhalers 4 times a day.

Use it or lose it

However, even with this level of treatment, I still didn't feel well. The most obvious problem was how tired I felt. I had always been an early riser, but now found myself unable to get out of bed before 11.30am. Once up, my energy levels were so low that I spent most of my days sitting at my desk watching my computer and television screens.  It was not much of an existence and was not easy for my family to witness or to cope with.

Although I was being weaned off my medication gradually, my general well-being was not really improving. They say ‘use it or lose it’ – I was not using very much and losing a lot. My weight crept up and I could only manage 2 minutes of exercise before becoming exhausted. Something needed to be done.

Starting pulmonary rehabilitation

I had heard about pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) and my consultant told me that it would be beneficial for me if I could find a well-run course. My GP agreed to refer me to my local service. Finally, there appeared to be a glimmer of light at the end of what had been a very long tunnel.

At my first assessment in February 2014 I was asked to name a goal to work towards. I wanted to be able to play golf 3 times a week, although I didn't really think it would be achievable For the next 6 weeks, we had 2 weekly sessions in the gym at the local hospital. It was run by the community pulmonary rehabilitation team and consisted of an hour of well-supervised and targeted exercise followed by an educational session for another hour. In each session we did a little more than in the previous one.

There were about 20 people in our group, with a big range of ages and abilities. I found it astonishing that each and every one of us improved so visibly from session to session. We were advised to do our own exercise at home on four other days of the week.

By the end of the 6 weeks, my functional ability had improved by 17 per cent and I was feeling so much better in myself. Despite doing more activity, I felt much less tired. The rehab programme not only improves your ability but also your recovery. My medication is now down to just 1 tablet and 1 inhaler twice a day.

Feeling better each day

After the programme ended, I knew it was important to keep exercising to continue to feel the benefits. I now attend a maintenance class for an hour once a week, I exercise at home - and I'm feeling better every day.

And what about my goal? By August I was playing golf up to 4 times a week and my handicap had dropped from 18 to 15!  Having had my life turned upside down in 2012, it has been turned around again in 2014.

This time the change was not as sudden but it has had amazing, far-reaching consequences. Happy days indeed, and all thanks to pulmonary rehabilitation run by a community team. The hospital team saved my life. The community team gave me a life.

If you are living with a lung condition, pulmonary rehabilitation might be suitable for you. Read our pulmonary rehabilitation information or give our helpline a call on 03000 030 555 to find out more.


Hi Miriam, I'm sorry to hear your breathing is so difficult right now, but it's great that you want to improve it! We are currently refreshing our exercise handbook which sounds perfect for your needs. It's not available to order right now, but if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive an email to tell you when it's in our shop. You can sign up to the newsletter here: <a href="" title="BLF supporter newsletter" rel="nofollow"></a> In the meantime, you could give our Helpline nurses a call on 03000 030 555, they'll be happy to explain some exercises and techniques that can help you to breathe easier. All the best Miriam, Suzanne British Lung Foundation
i did pulmonary rehab after having Bi lateral lvrs over the winter I found it difficult to go out and my breathing gets laboured now doing small tasks. Is there a booklet on exercises I could do in home I'm in a small bungalow and I try to walk but the longest walk is only 30 steps I do this as often as I can but its abit boring. Would love to do some exercises if you could help with a leaflet or something. Hoping you can help.
About a year ago I thought I would be breathless for ever with bronchiectasis but now I feel fit and active again. I strongly recommend anyone who is offered them to go. They are hard work but enjoyable too and they give you the tools to stay as well as possible in future. It's important to keep up with the exercise afterwards but there are various ways to do this.
I heartily agree about exercise. It works wonders but you really do have to keep it up. My local YMCA works closely with the local council and the medical services. Having done the rehabilitation at the hospital I was referred to the YMCA where they run classes for cardiac and lung patients. As I absolutely loathe exercising by myself at home I have become a member and as well as two classes a week I can go to the gym, which I try to do 3/4 additional days a week.
I have copd.Last year(2014) my GP sent me for an x-ray a shadow was found which led to a lot of hospital treatment.To cut a long story short my consultant recomended that I go forPR.I did the 6 week course in June and July and have kept up the exercises three times a week ever since.I just wish I had known about PR eight years ago!!!
I also attended a pulmonary rehab course in April/May 2013 following diagnosis of COPD and the improvement in my breathing/reduction in coughing has been dramatic with my lung capacity increasing by 64% in 6 months.I have continued attending a gym twice a week for 1 hour a time and the benefits coupled with those from the use of Seretide 500 have been dramatic.
I will try again , as earlier I was turned down due to high blood pressure , which I had no idea that I suffered from ! My flare-ups are becoming much worse and happen more frequently now , so here's hoping I will also sing rehabs praises as well.
Last summer I made it to a local one I could only do 1 day a wk as I had to look after my mum.then so many holidays (mon) that it was over just as I was doing well also my oxy levels were too low and I did not feel well,so I finished before I began so not happy about that as now I've had the setee as I am not motivated as my oxy levels go too low and of course very out of breathe so I'm a bit fed up
It seems that the rehab classes really are beneficial to COPD patients,i think they would help to get your confidence back as breathlessness is really frightening ,and the initial reaction is to do less rather than more due to fear.
I would just like to say that I cannot praise my local pulmonary rehabilitation team without them I don't know where I would be. At the moment I swim, maintenance gym class, yoga and tai chi pplus walking my dogs for 2 hours every day. None of this would have benn possible without there help. They gave me back my life. Thank you
having benefited from pulmonary rehab I thoroughly agree with Kevin on what a difference it can make. The only thing is that you MUST keep it up, which is not always easy to do if you are prone to chest infections.
I am thrilled that Kevin is now so well after his dreadful attack. I hope that his recovery last. I dont have access to pulmonary rehab so use the Mayo pulmonary rehab on youtube. It really helps with recovery. For my own asthma attacks it takes about 8 weeks to recover to a reasonable level where I can garden and walk about 30 mins. At 3 weeks I am able to start getting fitter again i start with a walking machine and set an initial goal of 1 minute without stopping and increase as goals are met twice. During the 8 weeks I am super sensitive to my triggers., when my aim is to avoid them. I think that if I had access to the pulmonary rehab with other people my recovery might be better.

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23 February 2015