Cardiopulmonary Rehab Helps RMC patient say, "I can breathe again."

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Program Helps Patients with Lung Issues Improve Quality of Life

Rockwood, Tennessee, resident Kim Clay loves animals. An office manager at a veterinary clinic, she and her husband have three goldendoodles, plus three grown children and 10 grandchildren. When she’s not working at the clinic, Clay loves spending time with her family. A long-time sufferer of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Clay has spent many years struggling to breathe. She also suffers from chronic hypoxemic respiratory failure, which means she is constantly not getting enough oxygen to her heart and lungs.

Photo of Amy Garrett, RN, and pulmonary rehab patient Kim Clay
Amy Garrett, RN, with pulmonary rehab patient Kim Clay

Clay underwent a Zephyr valve procedure, a minimally invasive medical treatment in which small valves are placed in airways of the lungs to help the healthy parts of the lung expand. The procedure can help improve lung function and exercise capacity. She was then able to participate in the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program at Covenant Health’s Roane Medical Center, which helped her more quickly achieve her goal of improved quality of life. She is thankful to the team at Roane Medical Center for her pulmonary rehab experience, which she completed in March 2024.

After Medical Treatment and Cardiopulmonary Rehab, “I’m Not Helpless Anymore”

Clay began cardiopulmonary rehab in December 2023. The program is designed to aid patients with lung issues like COPD, emphysema and other respiratory conditions. It’s been shown to decrease shortness of breath and other symptoms of heart and lung disease while increasing a patient’s ability to function.

In February, she underwent a second Zephyr valve procedure at Covenant Health’s Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville.

“I immediately felt better. Before, I could not even clean my house. I would get winded just sweeping the floors,” Clay says. “My oxygen levels would drop into the 70s and I’d have to stop. My daughters would have to come help me. Now I can sweep it every night with no issues. Between [the valve] procedure and rehab, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. I feel like I can breathe again – I’m not helpless anymore.”

About Cardiopulmonary Rehab at Roane Medical Center

“Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is for patients with many different pulmonary diagnoses,” explains Amy Garrett, RN. “We see people with pulmonary diseases like emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and many other conditions. These conditions can really reduce a person’s quality of life. Pulmonary patients really benefit from the gradual increase of exercise time and intensities that we help them achieve. Even people that are just experiencing shortness of breath with activity can benefit from cardiopulmonary rehabilitation.”

Garrett adds, “Other factors can affect pulmonary patients, like sickness or changes in the weather. Our job is to show our patients the benefits of exercise, give them the tools and encouragement to do it safely, and hope they leave feeling better than they came in and are ready to continue exercising. One of the keys to exercising consistently is having fun!”

Clay agrees. “I dreaded coming to pulmonary rehab at first, because I have not been successful in the past. But now I enjoy it and look forward to coming, and I’m excited to see what I’m able to accomplish.”

“When Kim first came to us for exercise, she was using four liters of oxygen and was feeling debilitated and constantly short of breath,” says Garrett. “Her O2 saturation was low, which is a measure of how much oxygen is in her lungs. After her second valve procedure, she continued coming to rehab and really started progressing.”

Monitored Exercise Improves Stamina, Lung Capacity

Over time and with patience and hard work, Clay went from using four liters of oxygen 24/7 to just one liter at night – a huge improvement.

Garrett says, “Kim is doing great. She’s up to 48 minutes of exercise per session. Each piece of equipment utilizes different muscle groups, and you require more oxygen while you are exercising. We monitored her O2 saturation levels continuously while she exercised on different recumbent elliptical machines and the arm bike. It’s a joy to see her walking in smiling.”

Clay was thrilled to take a cruise vacation not long after surgery in February 2024. There, she was able to walk five miles per day, something she could not have done before. “That was a big milestone for me,” she says. Clay previously only worked half days because of her condition, but in the past few weeks, she has returned to working full days at the veterinary clinic. “I work in a two-story building, and I used to have to drive around to the entrance, but now I can walk up the stairs,” she says.

“I brag after rehab. I come home and tell my husband everything I could do that day without using oxygen to supplement. My kids and coworkers have noticed what a difference it has made. I can see it’s only going to get better,” she beams.

For more information about the benefits of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and the program at Roane Medical Center, please visit

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Covenant Health

Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians, and dedicated employees and volunteers.

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