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Breathing a little easier

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It was earlier this year when Robin Sukhan was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.

Sukhan, a 65-year-old engineer working in Winnipeg’s downtown, had struggled with frequent colds and bouts of bronchitis for years before finally being officially diagnosed with the condition this past June. Fortunately for him, he soon discovered a program which has helped him manage his condition.

In late October, he enrolled in the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, which seeks to help patients mitigate problems associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. COPD is an umbrella term which refers to chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

COPD often leads to permanent loss of lung function, and if it increases in severity, can lead to more frequent problems, increasing reductions in airflow and premature death. COPD is currently the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, and half a million Canadians 35 or older have been diagnosed with the condition.

Casie Nishi, executive director for Wellness Institute, said while there is no cure for the disease, there is still much that can be done to help people who live with it.

"It’s not something that can be cured, but it’s most definitely something that can be managed," Nishi said.

Sukhan said he has been able to manage his condition so far and it hasn’t made a serious impact on his quality of life. He said he generally needs to be careful and manage any illness he contracts properly.

"I’ve really got to be careful when I get a cold. If I don’t take care of it properly, it could get into bronchitis," he said.

Sukhan said the eight-week rehabilitation program has worked wonders for him, and has helped to keep him be cognizant of what he needs to do to make sure his breathing is correct and he remains healthy.

He attends the program twice a week, taking spirometry tests to measure his lung strength, using elliptical machines and bicycles to exercise, and enrolling in classes which teach him what he needs to know. The program has also helped him prepare a plan of action, which he will take to his doctor before implementing.

"I really like it... I think it’s excellent, because you’re going to teach people how to exercise, how to breathe, kind of keep you out of the hospital, which is good for everybody," he said.

The program has been run jointly between the Wellness Institute and Seven Oaks General Hospital since 2002, and it’s recently caught the attention of the medical community abroad.

It was recently honoured as one of the five top innovative medical fitness programs in North America by the Medical Fitness Association, a network of more than 900 medical fitness facilities across the continent.

Nishi said the accolade came as an honour and an affirmation that the program is moving in the right direction.

"It’s very reassuring to be part of a truly world-class program," she said.
Nishi said the program has helped patients see significant improvements in their overall quality of life, based on the statistics they’ve collected.

"Through exercise, education about exercise, nutrition, medications, it’s been very beneficial in helping people manage their condition," she said.

Right now, about 20 people are enrolled, and Nishi expects the program will have helped about 200 individuals by the end of the year.

The Wellness Institute is currently working with other communities in Winnipeg to develop more partner sites for the program.

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