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Enloe Medical Center helping COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ breathe easier

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Enloe Medical Center is combatting post-COVID syndrome in patients one breath at a time.

Posted: Apr 14, 2021 7:30 PM
Updated: Apr 15, 2021 11:08 AM

CHICO, Calif. - Jesus Vizcarra is finally catching his breath again and exercising thanks to Enloe Medical Center's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.

Last June, Vizcarra was on a ventilator at Enloe Medical for five brutal days suffering from pneumonia and COVID-19.

Jesus Vizcarra, on the left, is a pulmonary rehab patient and Diana Pardo, on the right, is an exercise physiologist at Enloe Medical Center.

He was under the care of Dr. Verma who later told him he believed Vizcarra was going to die.

“I felt so bad I also thought myself that I was going to die,” Vizcarra said.

After nearly a month of fighting for his life in the hospital, he was able to go home.

For Vizcarra, the nightmare did not end after defeating the virus as he continued to have difficulty breathing and exerting energy for any substantial amount of time.

“If I take a few steps I feel like I was going to hyperventilate,” said Vizcarra. “I couldn’t breathe.”

That is until Dr. Verma referred him to Enloe’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation program so that he could improve his lung health.

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program has been treating people with a variety of diseases that are pulmonary related including emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis and post-lung surgery.

They are now using the multidisciplinary approach for those experiencing post-COVID syndrome, or long haulers.

“I feel like we are on the cutting edge here at Enloe of actually turning these people around,” said Scott Fedrizzi, a registered respiratory therapist at Enloe.

Each person gets an individual treatment plan with the goal to progressively get patients back to optimal health.

“That is through a combination of education, breathing retraining and exercise,” Fedrizzi told Action News Now.

Patients go into treatment twice a week for about 16 weeks.

They start each session with some simple resistance band training before transitioning on to different machines.

It is a long road to recovery, but staff like Diana Pardo, an exercise physiologist at Enloe, are with patients like Vizcarro every step of the way.

“We build a relationship with them and we are there to advocate for them,” said Pardo.

She said it is rewarding to see the progress Vizcarra and other patients have made in just two to three weeks of sessions.

“They are able to climb the stairs a little easier. They don’t have to take as many breaks in-between,” said Pardo. “They are able to go outside and get the mail without taking breaks.”

At the end of each session, they count how many Watts, or energy, they exerted.

In the beginning, Vizcarra would only reach about 60 watts, but when he finished he went all the way up to 90.

“It was kind of challenging in the beginning,” said Vizcarra. “I feel 99.9% better now.”

The staff wants to encourage people that they can feel their best again.

“It’s ok if you haven’t been exercising at all, said Pardo. “It’s ok if all you can do is a minute, two minutes, three minutes. We are here to help improve that.”

Vizcarra describes each breakthrough moment in his recovery journey as joy.

“I will never stop giving thanks to the Lord, to God and to everybody who helped me out,” said Vizcarra.

To see if you or someone you know may be a good candidate for Enloe’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation program, click here.

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