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Though many of the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the body are not yet known, some patients are experiencing respiratory issues that linger for weeks after their initial diagnosis. The pulmonary rehabilitation programs at both St. Mary’s Medical Center (SMMC) and Cabell Huntington Hospital (CHH) are helping post-COVID patients get back to their normal routine.

“We are seeing post-COVID patients who have decreased functional capacity and shortness of breath with normal daily activities,” said Lois Adkins, MS, clinical exercise physiologist, CHH Pulmonary Rehabilitation. “They may even require supplemental oxygen to maintain their optimal oxygen saturation levels.”

For some of these patients, often just walking to the mailbox can leave them feeling out of breath or exhausted.

“Experiencing these symptoms is extremely frustrating for these patients who just want to get back to their normal lives,” said Rhonda Sheridan, RRT, coordinator, St. Mary’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation. “Pulmonary rehabilitation can be extremely helpful to them in many different ways.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a supervised program that includes exercise training, health education and breathing techniques for people who have certain lung conditions or lung problems due to other conditions.

Pulmonary rehab can also monitor a patient’s supplemental oxygen levels. As the patient builds up their endurance, the oxygen levels are decreased until the supplemental oxygen is no longer necessary.

“We focus on the individual needs of each patient by working to meet realistic, individual objectives,” Adkins said. “Our overall goal is to achieve a maximum level of independent daily living.”

“Dealing with these issues can be extremely stressful and can often lead to depression or anxiety,” Sheridan said. “We’re looking to help restore not only your breathing, but also patients peace of mind as well.”

Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is experiencing these issues should discuss pulmonary rehab with their primary care provider, as a physician referral is required.

Both the CHH and SMMC programs are certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. SMMC Pulmonary Rehabilitation is also certified by The Joint Commission for the treatment of COPD. For more information, or to begin the referral process, contact SMMC Pulmonary Rehabilitation at 304.399.7402 or CHH Pulmonary Rehabilitation, located in the CHH Center for Lung Health, at 304.526.2529.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation can help post-COVID patients by:

• Incorporating aerobic exercise and resistance training to increase strength and endurance

• Instructing patients on the proper way to utilize new respiratory medications and supplemental oxygen

• Teaching patients proper breathing techniques to decrease shortness of breath

• Helping patients manage new pulmonary symptoms, such as productive cough and congestion

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