Meet Les, who learned that dealing with lung disease is a journey

Les Harrison with BC Lung's Darcy Murdoch

Pulmonary rehab is a structured therapy program that is meant to supplement treatment for COPD and other chronic lung diseases. While pulmonary rehab will not cure chronic lung disease, it helps patients lead more active lives by reducing symptoms and improving quality of life. Pulmonary rehab can include exercise, education, breath training and diet advice, and may be conducted at a hospital or in a home environment. To learn more about Pulmonary Rehab, go to HealthLink BC.

To shed some light on PR, we’re talking to folks who have been through PR programs for various lung conditions. Meet Les Harrison:

Les had a double lung transplant on May 25, 2015 at Vancouver General Hospital. He had Severe Bronchial Asthma which led to COPD. A former truck driver, Les, 65, lives in Maple Ridge with his wife of 26 years, Helen and is a participant in the Pulmonary Rehab Program at Ridge Meadows Hospital.

Can you tell us a little history of your condition?

I had asthma most of my life starting at age six. There were no puffers back in that day, so my mother used to boil the kettle and have me bend over a bowl with a towel over my head to inhale the steam. This eased my symptoms, but they continued. At age 10 my asthma went dormant. I was able to play all kinds of sports and be involved in outdoor activities. In my late twenties and early thirties I started working in various fields such as sawmills, open pit mining, fuel hauling and transporting asphalt.

When were you diagnosed with Severe Bronchial Asthma? 

Back in 1985 in my early 30s.  Stress from a divorce reactivated my asthma, so my doctor put me on a puffer called Atrovent. In 2009 things really went downhill: my normal routines became very difficult and cold air really exacerbated my condition.

Were you a smoker?

Yes, I was - big time. I probably smoked for 50 years. I tried every conceivable method to quit over the years, but finally quit cold turkey in 2010. Back in my day, a large percentage of people smoked - even doctors when you went to see them. Smoking was allowed on planes, in malls, theatres, driving in cars with kids and in the home. Second hand smoke was everywhere! 

How did you find out about the Pulmonary Rehab program at Ridge Meadows? 

In 2010, I found out about the twelve week Pulmonary Rehab program through my specialist, Dr. Irving at Ridge Meadows. Dr. Irving told me no more truck driving at this point. I was angry to hear this, as driving was my livelihood. My Severe Bronchial Asthma then led to COPD.

What challenges did you face with your new found COPD?

I experienced frustration because of my limited capacity. Constant shortness of breath, weight loss, weakness and muscle fatigue are all things I lived with. I was also on oxygen.

How did Pulmonary Rehab help you cope with your COPD?

It gave me knowledge. I learned about proper diet, ways to exercise properly and how to mentally deal with my condition. It also helped with the emotional side of dealing with COPD. When I began the program, I had a real chip on my shoulder. I thought, "I don't need this!" I quickly mellowed my thinking on that by listening and learning.

How would you explain the Pulmonary Rehab Program experience to someone that it may be of benefit to?

Oh, that's easy. I would tell them about the many benefits that involve compassion, care, how it eases tension and just having people there who listen. There is also great camaraderie and I’ve had lovely friendships formed.  As far as the exercise goes itself, you achieve a feeling of great satisfaction when you notice subtle changes in your muscle tone, strength and shape. It is absolutely the best thing you can do for yourself if you are incapacitated with a lung disease.

Are you still taking the twelve week program?  I was under the impression that once you have a transplant you are on your own for an exercise program.

Yes, I am. I am now on a maintenance program. I was asked to stay on as a mentor to new participants. Once these people see how new and improved I am because of my transplant and the pulmonary rehab program they can learn from my experience. I will always be involved not only for my own health, but for anyone I can be there for.

What activities do you now enjoy with your new life?

My favourite pastime is attending rehab and exercising.  I love walking my dog, Spud.  I have recently taken up Tai Chi and love cooking.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

You bet! Learn about your condition and see a doctor/specialist for any concerns. Try to be happy and keep a positive attitude. It’s not always easy, I know. Realize that your condition is a journey. You've got to work with it, not against it. Exercise to your ability. Never, ever give up!

To find a pulmonary rehab clinic near you, check out the UBC website listing of PR programs in the province or talk to your doctor.

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Page Last Updated: 03/04/2018