New Approach Creates New Hope For COPD Patients

They're also less likely to end up back in the hospital

Jeri and Haweya

Aboard an Alaskan cruise, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, Jeri Mondloch is creating wonderful memories—and defying the odds.

Jeri is living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that can make it hard to breathe. COPD is sometimes called emphysema or chronic bronchitis and is caused by repeated exposure to particles in the air that irritate the lungs. Smoking is often the cause of COPD, but a number of other factors, including genetics, can lead to this disease that affects millions. 

Jeri’s care team at University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis has given her the tools and skills to help her live life to the fullest, even with COPD. Two years ago, however, Jeri was far from planning any vacations.

A long struggle

Despite years of oxygen therapy, Jeri was hospitalized in southern Minnesota when she couldn't catch her breath. Diagnosed with a triple pneumonia infection, Jeri was then airlifted to University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis for specialized treatment. She spent 156 days at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul on a long road to recovery before finally going home.

But the worst wasn’t over.

When a new case of pneumonia brought Jeri back to the medical center a short time later, her prognosis looked bleak and she was ready to give up. That's when she met Haweya Farah, a chronic pulmonary disease specialist, whose optimism and determination began to change things for the better.

“Haweya was so tenacious and caring," says Jeri's daughter, Deb Nelson. "It was like we were adopted into her family.”

A new program makes a difference

In an effort to improve the well-being of COPD patients, the respiratory therapy department at the medical center began a new program, bringing a respiratory team together and pairing patients with specialists like Haweya.

The specialists connect patients with home care, home medical equipment, oxygen companies and medication management that fit their unique needs. 

They also make regular follow-up calls to check in with patients, making sure every need is met and every treatment is still effective.

The personal approach is what Haweya says drives the program's success.

“Establishing trust and cultivating compassion have a direct impact on patients' health and well-being,” Haweya says. “We all can make a difference if we take the time to acknowledge each other."

The impact of this approach is promising. For patients with a primary diagnosis of COPD, the program has contributed to more than a 15 percent reduction in 30-day hospital readmissions in the past year.

A trip of a lifetime

While Jeri is living independently today and managing her symptoms, taking an Alaskan cruise while living with COPD was not easy.

Jeri needed to ensure an oxygen supply and battery power was available at every stage—each airport, airplane, cruise ship and port. She also needed special permissions to travel with the equipment. But COPD didn't stop her.

“Every moment in Alaska was a favorite,” Jeri says. “I can’t put into words what it meant to go on this trip with my family.”

While there is no cure for COPD, managing the symptoms—shortness of breath doing everyday activities, chronic cough that produces lots of mucus, fatigue, wheezing and frequent respiratory infections—is possible. Proper diagnosis is the first step. To talk about your options, make an appointment with your primary care provider by calling 1-855-FAIRVIEW or requesting an appointment today.

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