November 30, 2015
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“I was a 56-year-old GP, happily married with two very successful children in their early 20s. I didn’t know I was asthmatic.” Kevin shares his experience of a sudden asthma attack – and how pulmonary rehabilitation gave him back his life.
On 25 November 2012, my life was completely changed in an instant.
That Sunday morning, I suffered a near-fatal asthma attack which caused my heart and breathing to stop. Luckily, a trained first-aider saw my collapse and he performed CPR (for the first time in a real situation!) until the paramedics arrived and brought me to hospital.
I was a 56 year old GP, happily married with two very successful children in their early 20s. I didn’t know I was asthmatic, although I did wheeze on one occasion many years previously when I was in the company of two cats. However, tests performed by my own GP were negative and using inhalers didn’t seem to be useful at the time.
Travel and triggers
There were a few things I can think of that could have triggered my asthma attack. Six weeks before my collapse, my wife and I were in Spain where we were exposed to a Sahara dust cloud. The Sahara dust particles are very small and are very irritating to the lungs if you breathe them in.
And on the weekend of my attack, I was with my daughter in Sheffield where she was competing in the national swimming championships. She told me that some people she knew with asthma were struggling with their breathing as there was lots of chlorine content in the air. My breathing began to get worse on the Saturday, leading to my collapse on the Sunday morning.
I was unconscious for 6 hours, and spent the next three weeks in hospital in Sheffield and Birmingham. When I was finally discharged, I was told to take 27 tablets a day and inhalers 4 times a day.
Use it or lose it
However, even with this level of treatment, I still didn’t feel well. The most obvious problem was how tired I felt. I had always been an early riser, but now found myself unable to get out of bed before 11.30am. Once up, my energy levels were so low that I spent most of my days sitting at my desk watching my computer and television screens. It was not much of an existence and was not easy for my family to witness or to cope with.
Although I was being weaned off my medication gradually, my general well-being was not really improving. They say ‘use it or lose it’ – I was not using very much and losing a lot. My weight crept up and I could only manage 2 minutes of exercise before becoming exhausted. Something needed to be done.
Starting pulmonary rehabilitation
I had heard about pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) and my consultant told me that it would be beneficial for me if I could find a well-run course. My GP agreed to refer me to my local service. Finally, there appeared to be a glimmer of light at the end of what had been a very long tunnel.
At my first assessment in February 2014 I was asked to name a goal to work towards. I wanted to be able to play golf 3 times a week, although I didn’t really think it would be achievable
For the next 6 weeks, we had 2 weekly sessions in the gym at the local hospital. It was run by the community pulmonary rehabilitation team and consisted of an hour of well-supervised and targeted exercise followed by an educational session for another hour. In each session we did a little more than in the previous one.
There were about 20 people in our group, with a big range of ages and abilities. I found it astonishing that each and every one of us improved so visibly from session to session. We were advised to do our own exercise at home on four other days of the week.
By the end of the 6 weeks, my functional ability had improved by 17 per cent and I was feeling so much better in myself. Despite doing more activity, I felt much less tired. The rehab programme not only improves your ability but also your recovery. My medication is now down to just 1 tablet and 1 inhaler twice a day.
Feeling better each day
After the programme ended, I knew it was important to keep exercising to continue to feel the benefits. I now attend a maintenance class for an hour once a week, I exercise at home – and I’m feeling better every day.
And what about my goal? By August I was playing golf up to 4 times a week and my handicap had dropped from 18 to 15! Having had my life turned upside down in 2012, it has been turned around again in 2014. This time the change was not as sudden but it has had amazing, far-reaching consequences.
Happy days indeed, and all thanks to pulmonary rehabilitation run by a community team. The hospital team saved my life. The community team gave me a life.