Training for Transplant: How I Learned to Breathe Again
Along this journey with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, my care team has had several different tools at their disposal. Some must be used in combination with others, while some are only used to gather information. Pulmonary rehabilitation, which can be deployed both pre- and post-transplant, falls under both categories.
Pulmonary rehab became the cornerstone of my training for the transplant program. My care team initially prescribed 30 minutes of walking at least three days a week. As they began to prepare me for transplant evaluation, I was enrolled in a formal pulmonary rehab program.
To be clear, in my younger days I was an above-average runner and a cyclist. A 10K fundraiser race at altitude in Denver, Colorado, was just another run. Yet, in my pre-transplant world, walking on a level surface at near sea level would cause a serious drop in my oxygen saturation.
Pulmonary rehab taught me to breathe again. It may sound preposterous, but it’s true. Breathing techniques, being mindful of my surroundings, and prioritizing exercise were all part of the lesson plan.
I had become primarily a mouth-breather, especially while I was sleeping. I chuckled when the pulmonary rehab team told me they would teach me to breathe. They weren’t wrong. First, they had me focus on breathing through my nose. It took concentration, but it helped me to take in oxygen more effectively. Second, they taught me pursed-lip breathing, where you inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips. This technique was most effective for me during any type of exertion.
Creating a new habit doesn’t happen overnight — it takes practice. But pulmonary rehab can help anyone create and execute a tailored exercise program to improve their pulmonary health.
I was fortunate to attend pulmonary rehab for almost a year before transitioning to a maintenance program. I was able to change from mouth-breathing to nose-breathing. Training consisted of time on a recumbent bicycle and a treadmill, and strength training.
As COVID-19 became more prevalent, the pulmonary rehab program was suspended to protect patients and staff. I had a new habit, a new behavior, which I continued on my own. I felt stronger than I had in years. I was able to walk for 30 minutes, using breathing techniques I had learned to maintain an acceptable oxygen saturation level. These techniques held true, even as my need for supplemental oxygen increased.
My three-day-a-week routine became five days a week, then seven. I was training for transplant. I knew my lungs were not going to get any better, so I had to invest in making the rest of my body strong.
As proof, in the days immediately following transplant, I was able to get out of bed, begin using a pedal bike while sitting in a chair, and ultimately walk laps around the hospital unit.
Ten days after my bilateral lung transplant, I was released from the hospital, and within days, I began post-transplant pulmonary rehab. Thanks to training for transplant, I was able to recover some of my strength more quickly and exercise my new lungs more effectively.
In hindsight, training for transplant and learning to breathe again were some of the most critical choices on my journey. Today, I still employ that training and the lessons I learned as I make every breath count.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.