Helping COPD Patients Get Back Their Breath


Munson Medical Center program promotes better quality of life

Hauling semi-loads of furniture across the country, inhaling diesel fumes, smoking cigarettes and breathing other’s second hand smoke caught up to Michael Hahnenberg.

The 59-year-old Traverse City resident developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that resulted in a prolonged stay in Munson Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit.

“I was down to 110 pounds when I went in there,” he said. “My father passed from lung cancer and he was a smoker, too. I just didn’t listen. But I haven’t touched a cigarette since I left the hospital.”

What he did do was get involved in Munson Medical Center’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Munson Community Health Center at the recommendation of his pulmonologist Timothy Vollbrecht, M.D. He did the eight-session educational program called “Better Breathing” and has since continued working out twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It helps me tremendously,” he said. “When I first went in there I could only walk five minutes on the treadmill at low speed. Now I can do 30 minutes.”

In addition to the treadmill, he uses the facility’s elliptical machines, stationary bikes, NuStep® machines, and cools down using the dumb bells. He said he appreciates the staff assistance and availability to answer questions.

The program at Munson Community Health Center served more than 500 patients from the region in 2016. Medical Director John Krcmarik, M.D., FCCP, ABSM, a pulmonologist, said the program focuses on helping patients improve their lung function.

“It’s designed to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other pulmonary diseases recover faster,” he said. “The program involves exercise, education, counseling, and support for patients and their families. Pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to help these patients accomplish more with less breathlessness and improve their quality of life.”

In addition to working with respiratory therapists, program participants have access to dietitians, nurses, and educators.

National statistics show COPD kills more than 120,000 Americans each year and causes serious long-term disability for many others. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million are likely to have the disease and not know it.

Symptoms of COPD include constant coughing, shortness of breath while performing what should be normal activities, excess sputum production, feeling unable to breathe, not being able to take a deep breath, and wheezing. The disease develops slowly and worsens over time. Risk factors include smoking, fumes, chemical and dust exposure, exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollutants, and genetic factors.

“Everyone at risk for COPD who has a cough, sputum production, or shortness of breath, should be tested for the disease with spirometry,” Dr. Krcmarik said. “Spirometry is a lung function test that can detect COPD before symptoms become severe and also help your doctor determine the best course of treatment for you.”

In annual rankings released in August 2016, U.S. News and World Report characterized Munson Medical Center as high performing in COPD care. The hospital ranked fifth in quality in the State of Michigan.

Hahnenberg recommends the program to others who find themselves in a similar condition. “It’s a happy place to be when you come out of there with a good feeling,” he said. “I can do a lot more than I used to.”

Munson Community Health Center’s Pulmonary Rehab offers supervised exercise sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. Programs also are available at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, Munson Healthcare Grayling Hospital, Paul Oliver Memorial Health Center and West Shore Medical Center.

Learn more about Munson Medical Center quality efforts.