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Sunday, March 10, 2013 - Breathing New Life Into Patients

A year ago Mary Jo Heard was suffering the lingering effects of pneumonia, including shortness of breath and fatigue. Feeling run down, she began giving up activities she loved, such as singing in the choir at church. When she required oxygen 24-hours a day, she was referred to a pulmonologist, a specialist in lung disease.
The pulmonologist was pessimistic about Mrs. Heard’s prognosis. She was admitted to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for extensive testing, including a lung biopsy.

Finally, after months of wondering why she was feeling so run down, she was given a diagnosis: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is scarring or thickening of the lungs without a known cause. The prognosis given by her physician was that her condition was incurable. She needed to treat the symptoms, and come to terms that she may only have a few years of life left. “That was hard for us to hear, but we weren’t going to accept that she was dying,” shared Fred Heard, Mary Jo’s husband.

 Mary Jo Heard with her husband, Fred.


In the hospital her pulmonary function was at 30% (above 80% is good), and she required oxygen 24-hours a day. A pulmonary therapist in the hospital, knowing she lived in Sevier County, asked if she would be interested in outpatient pulmonary rehab at LeConte Medical Center. When the Heards replied yes, the therapist contacted her colleague Joyce Massaros, Respiratory Therapist, at LeConte Cardio-Pulmonary Rehab. Mrs. Heard’s physician agreed that she could participate if it would “make her feel better,” although he was skeptical that it would improve her prognosis.

LeConte’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation team provides individualized programs for those suffering from lung disease. Sessions are twice weekly for 1½ hours, for a total of 24–36 sessions. “Our goal with pulmonary rehab is to slowly build patients’strength up, while monitoring oxygen levels and cardiac activity,” explained Massaros.

Patients receive information on everything they would need to know about lung disease, and how to have a better quality of life. Mr. Heard was glad that spouses were included in the education, “The lessons on stress and relaxation were very helpful and working so closely with others going through the same thing really helped develop a strong support system.”

“The first day Mrs. Heard came in to rehab, she couldn’t walk three feet without huffing and puffing, and was on a constant flow of oxygen. Now she is completely off of oxygen, even during exercise,” said Massaros.

“I was fearful the first time on an exercise machine. I was so weak when I started rehab that my husband had to bring me in a wheelchair,” remembered Mrs. Heard. “But the more I exercised, the better I could breathe! When I went back to my doctor (pulmonologist) he couldn’t believe the difference. He’s still amazed that I can exercise without oxygen!” After reviewing her progress, including a 98% lung function score, and X-rays, her physicians think that her fibrosis may be reversing itself, which is incredibly rare.

For more information about the benefits of Pulmonary rehab at LeConte Medical Center visit http://www.lecontemedicalcenter.com/cprehab or call 865.446.8500.










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100 Fort Sanders West Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37922
(865) 374-1000