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RiverView's Pulmonary Rehab Helps Post-COVID Patients Conquer Lasting Struggles

Hospital news | Monday, July 19, 2021

Rod Beiswenger makes no secret of the fact that he loves his life. That's why the rural Fisher resident couldn't wait to get back to it after a terrible battle with COVID-19. Beiswenger's journey back to health was long, full of prayer and medical intervention, and included RiverView Health's Pulmonary Rehab Services.

Beiswenger is feeling great these days. Life is good. "It's easy to be me," he said recently in his cheerful tone. "It's a joy to be me. If I could be anyone else, I'd be my wife so I could be married to me."

Life wasn’t as rosy last fall, though, when COVID hit both he and his wife, LuAnn.

Long Road to Recovery
After falling ill, Rod had a positive COVID test on Sept. 19, after which he stayed home with a high fever and "feeling listless." On Sept. 24, he collapsed in the shower, and LuAnn brought him to RiverView's Emergency Room.

"When I describe my time at home prior to going to the ER, I liken myself to a stroke victim," he explained. "I sat slumped in a chair covered with a blanket virtually all day and all night."

After receiving fluids and lowering his temperature at RiverView, Beiswenger was transferred by ambulance to an intensive care unit (ICU) in Bemidji.

"I remember when I arrived at the Bemidji ICU, they asked if I could move from the gurney to the bed. I replied, 'of course.' I'm not sure I could have given the same answer 24 hours later," he stated of his deteriorating condition.

Beiswenger spent 23 nights in the hospital, including 14 in ICU, six in the COVID Unit, and three in a regular room. He went home with a walker and an oxygen tank.

After his long hospital stay, Rod spent several weeks struggling at home until Dr. Bosun Fashoro, Internal Medicine provider at RiverView, suggested he try Pulmonary Rehab to aid in his recovery.

"I was pretty excited to get help," Beiswenger shared. "I wanted to go to rehab. I knew I'd do better if I was in rehab and held accountable. And, it clearly helped me to get back on my feet."

Blazing a Trail
Beiswenger was the first patient with post-COVID issues to go through RiverView's Pulmonary Rehab, according to Wanda Sorum, coordinator of Cardiopulmonary Rehab. Rod participated in Phase II Pulmonary Rehab, a monitored exercise program. During Phase II, the patient wears a cardiac monitor, and blood pressure and oxygen saturation are also monitored. If needed, the patient uses supplemental oxygen, as well. The program teaches patients different breathing techniques to help them control their breath, slow their breathing, and utilize their lungs as efficiently as possible.

"Pulmonary Rehab conditions patients and improves their overall wellbeing," reported Leah Hendricks, respiratory therapist. "Some patients have come to us requiring supplemental oxygen, and after completing the program, no longer need it."

Through the program, patients use a variety of exercise equipment to help improve endurance and stamina to improve mobility.

"I remember the first time Brittni Johnson (RiverView physical therapist) told me she wanted me to work on going up and down the stairs; it scared the heck out of me," Beiswenger shared. "I told her I knew I could roll down quickly, but I wasn't sure I could make it up the stairs. Now, I don't even think about it."

Today, Beiswenger considers himself back to his pre-COVID condition. He continues to use the lessons he learned in Pulmonary Rehab, and he and LuAnn do a lot of walking. As for LuAnn, Rod reports that she "got plenty sick" with COVID, but he "took the prize for the sickest."

"My survival is a miracle, and I had an incredible number of people praying for me," he shared." My recovery has also been outstanding, and I feel I am at 100 percent today."

A Steady Stream of Long-haulers
Rod doesn't consider himself a COVID long-hauler since he has made a full recovery, but there have been many long-haulers who have gone through the Pulmonary Rehab program, and some continue to do so.

"Long-haulers are patients, who after several months post-COVID are still having issues with shortness of breath, shortness of breath with activity, difficulty returning to work, or difficulty carrying on normal day-to-day activities."

According to Hendricks, long-haulers benefit from upper body training. "So often, when these patients start rehab, they are weak and have lost muscle mass. Strong core, chest, and shoulder muscles are important for proper posture and to assist with breathing."

Camaraderie and accountability are also benefits Beiswenger appreciated from his time in rehab. "I don't think there was a person in the room or who would walk through that I didn't know. I enjoyed seeing everyone."

Hendricks said studies have shown that Pulmonary Rehab not only helps patients with the physical symptoms they are experiencing post-COVID but also helps patients decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression and can get people back to feeling like themselves, both physically and emotionally.

Pulmonary Rehab is covered by most insurance, but patients need a referral from their provider to participate.

"I would very much recommend RiverView Pulmonary Rehab for anyone that needs that type of care in their recovery," Beiswenger stated. "This was a really big event in my life. Rehab held me accountable to do what I needed to get back to my wonderful life. The staff was so great to work with too.

"I'm thankful for the medical help I received and very thankful for all of the prayers that helped me come back to this life that I'm so happy to live. I can still set a hook with the best of them."

For more information on post-COVID care at RiverView, talk to your primary care provider or call the Rehab Services Department at 281.9463.

Pictured above: Rod Beiswenger recently visited RiverView's Rehab Services Department to check in with Wanda Sorum, coordinator of Cardiopulmonary Rehab. Beiswenger worked with the Pulmonary Rehab Team when he suffered from post-COVID issues.