Retired pre-school teacher, devoted dog mom, volunteer and pulmonary rehab patient
“Pulmonary rehab is an informal support group. Just coming together with people who are going through the same thing – even for an hour – gives you a lift.”
Former Patient, Current Pulmonary Rehab Volunteer Kelly Wilson is Back to a Normal Pace and Helping Other Breathe Easier
Kelly Wilson knows that even young people can need pulmonary rehabilitation. At age 30, she began experiencing shortness of breath.
“I thought I was in good shape,” Kelly said. “I had done water aerobics for a long time and all of a sudden started getting short of breath. I felt lightheaded and tired and couldn’t keep up while walking dogs with other people.” Her doctor scheduled a diagnostic stress test. “While I was on the treadmill, I coded,” she said. “I remember waking up in the hospital and knew something was seriously wrong.”
At 31, Kelly was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) which made it impossible for her body to get the oxygen it needed. Surgery relieved some of the pressure on her heart, and oxygen and medications kept her alive, but PPH is a progressive condition and she grew weaker. “It was a struggle to carry a bag of groceries,” she said. “As young as I was, I eventually had to use an Amigo to get around,” she said.
In 2003, at the age of 37, Kelly received a double lung transplant. The transplant saved her life and also changed it dramatically. “After the transplant, I was very weak and slow to react. I had to re-learn so many things,” she said.
“Pulmonary rehab was good for me. They taught me how to breathe the right way, and helped me regain strength in my arms and legs.” Kelly was delighted to be able to exercise again. “My favorite is the recumbent bike – I wanted to use it for hours. The elliptical machine is nice, too.”
After her transplant, Kelly had to retire from her job as a pre-school teacher. “Now I try to give back to the community as a volunteer,” she said. “I help at church, teach classes, visit with people who can’t get out, and I’m a Stephen Minister.”
Forty-five year old Kelly also volunteers with pulmonary rehab patients. “We’re like a family,” Kelly said. “Those of us who have gone through pulmonary rehab are there to help out those who are now going through it. Pulmonary rehab is also an informal support group. Just coming together with people who are going through the same thing – even for an hour – gives you a lift.”
The family includes the staff. “Jackie is the mom,” Kelly said of Pulmonary Rehab Coordinator Jackie Evans, L.R.C.P. “You can tell she really loves her job. She cares for everyone and watches out for her patients.”
Kelly is doing well and keeps up with her exercise by walking Bailey, her red Labrador, and using a stationary bike. She has regular checkups with her pulmonologist.
“My transplant was a miracle,” Kelly said. “You’d never know I had PPH because now I do everything like a normal person and at a normal pace.”
Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you live your best life, even after a pulmonary diagnosis.
While treatment results can vary by patient and condition severity, this program is designed to reduce the physical and emotional impact of chronic lung diseases and maximize each patient's breathing capacity.
If you have been diagnosed with a lung condition and are perhaps on home oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation may help you return to an active life. To learn more about Pulmonary Rehab Services available through MidMichigan Health, visit www.midmichigan.org/pulmonary. For referral to a physician who specializes in lung conditions, please call MidMichigan Health Line at (800) 999-3199.