RTs Provide Support Network to Patients

image of health care provider working with patients outside of hospital room

AARC members take time to provide guidance and camaraderie through a network of support groups for their patients and community. From discussion sessions and expert presenters to harmonicas and yoga, read how your colleagues are enhancing the respiratory care of their patients.

Better Breathing Together

Esther Castilleja, RRT, RCP, AE-C of Bedford, TX, facilitates two support groups at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital HEB: the Better Breathers Club (an American Lung Association (ALA) program) and the Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis group.

“Our goal is to improve the knowledge and understanding of lung diseases for those affected by chronic lung disease, by sharing and learning disease management skills,” Castilleja said. “This support group also provides a social forum for the exchange of ideas and interests. Most of our members are former patients of pulmonary rehab and serve as a good resource for new-comers on how to do deal with chronic lung disease.”

Castilleja explained that they conduct meetings throughout the year, of which, some of the meetings are social, such as their indoor picnic and Christmas party.

Their Better Breather’s Club consists of members primarily affected by COPD, while the Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis group includes members affected by interstitial lung disease. Sometimes meetings, depending on the topic, include both groups together.

Michele DaSilva, BA, RRT-NPS of Stanhope, NJ, hosts a Better Breathers Club as well. The group meets monthly at the continuing care retirement community she works at.

When asked to identify how her patients would most benefit from of her program, she explained that the “value is understanding their lung disease more, learning about other lung diseases, [and] learning about treatments and modalities that are available.”

Their support group meetings usually focus on a topic, which can include interactive parts and also a discussion session.

Bonnie Coxe, RRT, RPFT, AE-C of the Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, TX, helps lead a Better Breathers Club for their pulmonary rehab program. The group meets monthly to discuss various respiratory topics, including breathing techniques, energy conservation, medications and coping skills. They have even offered classes on home health services and advance directives.

“We are a support group for all chronic lung conditions, not just COPD,” Coxe said, who continued to explain that they have some members with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and some with Primary Pulmonary Hypertension.

All of their classes are offered through their pulmonary rehab program, and they invite outside speakers to take part. Following the presentations, members engage in a question and answer session on any topic, not just the meeting topic. And finally, Coxe and her team always ask members at the end of each meeting what topic they would like more information on, which helps guide and plan future meetings.

Harriette Janssen, RRT of Appleton, WI, hosts a Better Breathers Club as well.

“We have a great joint program that uses resources from two local competing health care systems, which makes it fun!” Janssen said.

The group currently meets about six times a year, and guest speakers range from doctors, social workers, home care, lawyers and more. Additional activities include PulmRehab-Jeopardy, kazoo playing and yoga.

“We have two wonderful support groups that are offered to our Pulmonary Rehab patients and to the community,” said Teena Culhane, BHK, RRT of Royal Oak, MI. “I feel that our groups benefit our patients and community by offering education and support, and allowing them to network with each other.”

Culhane and her team offers a Lung Transplant Support Group that meets on a monthly basis for patients thinking about a transplant, under evaluation, listed and waiting, or who have already received a transplant. Culhane also noted that caregivers, family and friends are all welcome.

“We were finding ourselves exchanging phone numbers between patients who were either on the waiting list or contemplating with those patients who have already received a transplant so often that we decided to create our own support group,” Culhane said.

The Michigan team also hosts a Better Breathers Club.

“According to the American Lung Association, we have one of the largest Breathers Clubs in Michigan!” Culhane said.

The group meets every other month, and meetings include different guest speakers. They also have a big holiday party in December.

“Over the past two years, we’ve created a team with our patients, family members, caregivers and friends, and participated in the ALA’s Lung Force Walk at the Detroit Zoo,” Culhane said. “Since then, we’ve raised over $5,000 for this campaign and are putting together another team for this October.”

Breathing with Inspiration

For Kelly Shepard, RRT, AE-C of Mount Vernon, WA, and her team, their support group for individuals with lung disease began a few years ago.

“We named it ‘Inspiration,’” Shepard said. “We appreciated the play on words—Inspiration / Exhalation and ‘Inspiration,’ as in to inspire—[which] seemed totally appropriate for a support group for individuals with lung disease.”

Inspiration meets every other month and covers a variety of topics, such as “How oxygen affects the heart,” “What is Reiki and can it help with healing?” and more.

According to Shepard, through these groups, she “can carry on topics that are less traditional than those in pulmonary rehab and can introduce a variety of topics, such as Eastern medicinal practices and blend that with Western medicine.”

Breathing to a Tune

Alexandra Worl, BSRT, RRT-NPS of Westminster, CO, hosts a monthly support group for her pulmonary rehab patients. The group brings doctors, pharmacists and vendors together who come in and speak to the group. They also have a harmonica support group and yoga group. Worl also explained that many of their meeting topics focus on COPD.

Breathing to Learn

Brooke Conner, RRT, BSRC of Wichita Falls, TX, offers a support group once a quarter called Breath Savers. They cover a different topic every session, such as medications, the importance of exercise and the benefits it makes for your breathing, and equipment and how to take care of it.

They also offer flu shots at the sessions that fall close to the beginning of flu season.

According to Conner, the best Breath Savers sessions include their recent medications talk and their talk about the importance of exercise for your pulmonary health. For their medications talk, they invited a pharmacist to discuss medications, explaining what they were. She even brought example inhalers to show to the patients. She also covered all the new inhalers that are making their way into the market.

For their exercise talk, an exercise physiologist from the hospital visited the group and talked about the importance of exercise. She also demonstrated simple stretches to help tone and strengthen the body to perform daily activities.