Senior man wearing a mask on an exercise machine.

Pulmonary Rehab Program Breathes New Life to Patients of All Ages

Dick Carroll is a strong 89-year-old. He always has been. A manual laborer for his entire life, Carroll was completely at home moving furniture and driving trucks across the nation and Canada into his late seventies. He was always proud of his strength and able to live a healthy life.

So one year ago, it came as quite a surprise to him to suddenly not be able to breathe. Carroll had developed a persistent upper respiratory infection that he just couldn’t shake and had to carry portable oxygen canisters with him. He also noticed he was starting to lose muscle strength.

“I don’t care how sick you are or what your strength (or lack thereof) is, it works,” Carroll says of the Pulmonary Rehab program. “I spent the winter sitting in a chair, gasping for air. I never thought I’d get any of my muscle strength back. But I did.”

The program, which consists of 36 sessions over 3-4 months, is for anyone with moderate to severe chronic lung disease. Sessions usually last one hour and meet three times a week. Carroll’s regimen included warmup exercises followed up by a mixture of cardio and strength training exercises. The classes also include various education topics to further assist patients with understanding the management of their lung condition. The group dynamic fosters a supportive environment for those with similar conditions.

“When I started in February, I could only lift three pound weights, which was devastating, given my profession. Now I’m up to 10 pound weights, and I’m looking at the twelves. And I’ll get there,” he says. “Heck, I’m grateful to be able to cut my grass again.”

He credits the incredible staff at Island Pulmonary Rehabilitation for helping him improve. In fact, Carroll began the program needing oxygen therapy, and by the time Carroll graduated, he no longer showed the need for his oxygen tank…a rare feat. Carroll was able to keep his oxygen at a safe level, even with vigorous exercise, on room air alone.

“Sarah [Edwards] (respiratory therapist) and Leo [Bentivoglio] (exercise specialist) are there to monitor your breathing and oxygen levels, and Kimberly [Merrill] (registered nurse) is there to make sure your heart stays safe. They all do such a great job cheering you on and supporting you,” Carroll says. In fact, the multi-disciplinary team includes a medical doctor, a registered respiratory nurse, a registered nurse, an exercise specialist and a registered dietician.

A patient sits on a recumbent exercise bike next to the director of pulmonary rehabilitation at Island Health.

Director of Cardiopulmonary Services Sarah Edwards, RRT, CPFT, MPH, says Carroll was the ideal patient. His hard work and determination contributed greatly to his success, she says. Having completed the program, Carroll now continues in the maintenance program, which meets twice weekly.

He says, “It takes work, but it’s totally worth it. I’m telling you. This program saves lives…more than people realize.”

If you have a lung-related condition, ask your physician if a pulmonary rehab program is right for you. For more information, visit or call 360.299.4242.

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