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Health Aware: Managing life with chronic lung disease

Suzanne Borowiak (left) confers with DonnSerlregistered respiratory care practitioner during one Borowiak’s pulmonary rehab sessions Edward Hospital.

Suzanne Borowiak (left) confers with Donna Serlin, a registered respiratory care practitioner, during one of Borowiak’s pulmonary rehab sessions at Edward Hospital.

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Updated: January 13, 2013 6:12AM

When Suzanne Borowiak of Yorkville came to her first pulmonary rehab appointment at Edward Hospital in March 2009, her troubled breathing made walking across the room a challenge.

The 46-year-old mother of two has pulmonary fibrosis, a disease marked by scarring of tissue deep in the lungs. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, a chronic dry cough and fatigue. In addition, she has pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), which also can cause shortness of breath and weakness.

There’s no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, but it can become more manageable with treatment — especially pulmonary rehabilitation and in some cases, oxygen therapy. Some people may benefit from medications to reduce symptoms of their lung disease.

Borowiak is being evaluated for a lung transplant. She uses oxygen when she sleeps and during activity. And, according to Donna Serlin, a registered respiratory care practitioner at Edward, Suzanne is a perfect example of how someone can benefit from pulmonary rehab. Borowiak has completed the initial 12-week intensive phase of rehab, and now comes into Edward twice weekly for maintenance sessions.

“The main components of pulmonary rehab are exercise, education and emotional support,” Serlin says. “In all cases we want to improve quality of life for people with chronic lung disease and keep them out of the hospital. But treatment plans are individualized, because everyone comes in with a unique set of circumstances.”

Borowiak’s rehab sessions include monitored work on cardio equipment to build endurance.

“Some people with lung disease think that exercise is going to make them worse, but the opposite is true,” Borowiak says. “It’s helped me become stronger. I’m now able to go about my normal activities with much less exhaustion.”

The education part of rehab covers a lot of ground, according to Serlin.

“Weekly education sessions cover understanding your lung disease, special breathing techniques, energy conservation, emotional well-being, nutrition, preventing infection, sleep disorders, and many other aspects of managing life with a chronic lung disease,” she says.

Serlin also facilitates a support group, now in its eighth year, for people with pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases. Borowiak has been going to the group for more than three years, resulting in some solid friendships.

“It’s helpful to be around others who are facing the same situation, both in rehab and in the group,” Borowiak says. “We share ideas and information. We talk a lot about the expectations we have of others, and what others expect of us.”

Edward’s rehab program follows the guidelines of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. The most common lung diseases that bring people to pulmonary rehab are COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, lung cancer and cystic fibrosis.

“Some patients may be hesitant to start the (rehab) program, but once they begin, they don’t want to leave,” Serlin says.

For more information, visit or call 630-527-3389.

Health Aware is courtesy of Edward Hospital

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