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Forest Grove Retiree Finds Hope at New Tuality Healthcare Pulmonary Rehab Clinic

April 15, 2011

For immediate release
Contact:  Gerry Ewing / 503-681-1654

For most of us, a trot on a treadmill or spin on a stationary bike is about getting in shape or losing a pound or two. For Earlene Nevers, a cardio workout is a matter of life and death.

The Forest Grove retiree suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), one of America’s silent killers. The disease makes simple breathing a chore.

But thanks to Tuality Healthcare’s new pulmonary rehabilitation clinic, Earlene is working on taming the nastiness of COPD and regaining quality of life.

The rehab clinic, under the leadership of Peter Hahn, MD, FCCP, FAASM, and exercise specialists Cheris Hollis, Barbara Grossnickle and Karen McCoy, has been in operation less than two months and Nevers is their first patient. The clinic’s goal is to give patients new breathing techniques and breathing specific exercises, which coupled with education, has been shown to improve quality of life and decrease symptoms of shortness of breath. “The goal of the program is to increase the quality of life,” Dr. Hahn said. Dr. Hahn serves as medical director of Critical Care and Sleep Medicine for Tuality Healthcare. He manages the pulmonary rehab clinic in association with Hillsboro Internal Medicine.

Dr. Hahn and his staff have their work cut out for them because COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, it is the only major disease with an increasing death rate, growing at roughly 16 percent a year. The increase can be partly attributed to baby boomers who were chronic smokers entering their 60s. There is no cure for COPD.

Earlene is in the middle of a six-week COPD program that aims to increase her exercise tolerance and decrease the sensation of shortness of breath. The program consists of three one-hour sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays are broken up into 30-minute education sessions and 30-minute exercise sessions; Wednesdays and Fridays are all exercise. At her initial session, Nevers’ lung capacity was measured at only 42 percent.

A cigarette smoker for 50 years, Earlene hopes to increase her activity levels and regain a good deal of quality of life. COPD and the resultant lung problem forced her to lead “a very rigid lifestyle,” a far cry from when she served as a nurse and ran her own restaurant and video store.

“We all take breathing for granted until you have trouble breathing,” she said. She blames part of the problem on the rainy, cold winter and spring, which has limited her daily walks with her dog and other forms of outdoor exercise. “I lost a lot of lung function,” she said of winter 2010-2011.

The plight of her sister, who passed away from lung problems associated with COPD, forced her to confront her own situation. “She just sat in a chair and dwindled away,” she said. “She got no exercise. She had no one to talk to. The worst thing you can do is sit around alone.” Her sister died only four years after being diagnosed with COPD.

Earlene has high praise for Dr. Hahn, who she described as “marvelous,” as well as the exercise specialists at the pulmonary rehab clinic. She also said her recovery wouldn’t have been possible without her primary care physician, Dr. Irene Pucciarelli, DO, and another pulmonologist, Dr. Brian Kelly, MD.

“Dr. Hahn offers people hope,” she said. “And he’ll show you exactly what is wrong with you.”

Dr. Hahn said the pulmonary rehab program has four main goals:

  • Improve the quality of life
  • Increase daily living participation
  • Increase exercise tolerance
  • Decrease health-care utilization.

The program does not prolong life, but it can improve its quality, Dr. Hahn said. He said he was surprised by the incidence of COPD in Oregon, which is known for its clean air and healthy lifestyle. He suspects the smoking rate is mostly to blame.

Dr. Hahn will be speaking in the near future to medical directors in Salem to try to persuade the Oregon Health Plan to cover pulmonary rehab costs. Medicare and most private insurance pay for some pulmonary rehab costs; OHP currently does not.

The other factor that Earlene likes is the convenience of pulmonary rehab care at Tuality Community Hospital. Only three other hospitals in the Portland metro area – Portland Adventist, Legacy Good Samaritan and Legacy Meridian Park – have pulmonary rehab programs.

Earlene realizes she may have to do pulmonary rehab the rest of her life. “My goal is to be better than I was,” she said “I have a much better knowledge of breathing, which gives me much more control of my life. I know when to slow down and how to enjoy the good days and deal with the bad days.”

To view a map of COPD prevalence by state, go to http://www.cdc.gov/copd/data.htm

To obtain more information about COPD and pulmonary rehabilitation, go to: http://www.thoracic.org/clinical/pulmonary-rehabilitation/patient-information/pulmonary-rehabilitation.php or http://www.perf2ndwind.org/Essentials.html

About Dr. Hahn: Peter Hahn, M.D., FCCP, FAASM, is a board-certified and fellowship-trained pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine specialist who serves as medical director of Critical Care and Sleep Medicine for Tuality Healthcare. He also manages a pulmonary specialty outpatient practice in association with Hillsboro Internal Medicine. Dr. Hahn earned his medical degree at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He went on to serve his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he also completed fellowship training in pulmonary and critical care medicine, and a Mayo Foundation Scholar fellowship in sleep medicine. He stayed on with the Mayo Clinic as a consultant in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and the Center for Sleep Medicine. Dr. Hahn is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American College of Chest Physicians. He is married, has two children, and enjoys competitive soccer, tennis and playing the violin. He joined the Tuality Healthcare medical staff in 2010.

To reach Dr. Hahn, call Hillsboro Internal Medicine at 503-681-4233 or visit the clinic website at www.hillsborointernalmedicine.org