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Wind back in her sails – COPD patient breathes easier

April 18, 2018

Lou Cornforth is interviewed by Erin Ivory of WGN News for a story on her singing group, The Pulmonaires.
Lou Cornforth is interviewed by Erin Ivory of WGN News for a story on her singing group, The Pulmonairs.

Lou Cornforth is interviewed by Erin Ivory of WGN News for a story on her singing group, The Pulmonairs.

Six years ago, Lou Cornforth suffered a fall that landed her in the hospital with an extended stay in a rehab facility. During that time, she began experiencing depression and episodes of breathlessness. Lou was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which makes it difficult to breathe. She then made the decision to quit smoking.

Prior to her fall, the senior citizen from Inverness had an active life and had been walking around her neighborhood to improve her health.

A year and half ago, Lou developed blood clots in both lungs. Shortly after she was released from the hospital and rehab, she suffered a bout of pneumonia and flu and spent weeks in the ICU.

There were moments when her daughter Tara Alvarez thought Lou would not make it through the night. Thankfully, a team of physicians including Pulmonologists Mukesh Ahluwalia, M.D., and Steven Geller, M.D., at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) were able to clear her lungs and put her on the path to wellness.

“My mother raved about the care,” Tara says. “Everyone was helpful and I got updates from the nurses daily. We spent every day by her side.”

Today, Lou’s coordinated care includes regular appointments with her longtime Internal Medicine Physician Michael Glickman, M.D., and periodic check-ups with Dr. Geller.

“I have adjusted her inhaler medications and we’re keeping her on her oxygen and working together on pulmonary rehab,” Dr. Geller says. “She certainly seems comfortable and confident in how she’s doing.”

Inhale, exhale, repeat

Recently, Dr. Geller referred Lou to the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Program at the NCH Wellness Center in Arlington Heights. Nurses there gave her the tools she needed – lectures on nutrition, breathing techniques and a personalized exercise program – to improve her lung function.

“We warm up first, then I work the treadmill and I do the rowing machine,” says Lou. “We’re free to choose which machine we work on, and then we have a cool down. The nurses are wonderful people.”

Lou even sings with fellow COPD patients weekly. The “Pulmonairs” were formed after Dr. Geller reviewed a clinical study highlighting the benefits of singing on lung function.

“I can hear the difference in her voice,” Tara says. “She’s not speaking with shallow breathing, but speaking more from the diaphragm.”

From physician visits and nightly sponge baths at the hospital to the encouragement she receives from nurses in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Program, Lou says she has nothing but great things to say about her NCH experience.

“This hospital has to be the greatest hospital in the world,” Lou says. “The nurses were like angels. I was never uncomfortable, and never in pain.”

At 83, Lou is still more active than most seniors, spending three days a week exercising, and attending regular rehearsals with the Pulmonairs. She is slowly getting back to enjoying social activities with friends, attending church and doing all the things she loves. She even drives herself to Walmart and is used to toting her oxygen cart with her.

“We didn’t know if she was going to need a nursing home or home care,” Tara says, reflecting on how sick her mother was. “I cannot believe what a difference a year makes.”

More than half of Dr. Geller’s patients have COPD, but not all are as severe as Lou’s case was. According to the American Lung Association, more than 11 million people in the U.S. suffer from COPD. Early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Think you have it?

Risk factors for COPD:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain gases and fumes in the workplace
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
  • Frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation

Warning signs:

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blueness of the lips
  • Fatigue
  • Phlegm
  • Wheezing

Short of breath?

Talk to your physician about a pulmonary function test, especially if you have shortness of breath. Get a referral from your physician to see an NCH pulmonologist.

Find a doctor who is right for you by calling 1-844-NCH-HEALTH or visiting our physician directory.

See the NCH Pulmonairs on WGN News.