This is how Larry Haas describes the last several years: “I was just going down, down, down.”
And his supplemental oxygen levels? Going up, up, up.
The 69-year-old Stanton, Michigan, resident suffers from chronic bronchitis and COPD.
“I was in the doctor’s office every other week,” Haas said. “The antibiotics and steroids weren’t working anymore.”
Somehow, even though he’d been losing his breathing ability, Haas never lost his sense of humor. He joked that “maybe there was a new pill out” that would cure his lung struggles.
Instead of a pill, his doctor prescribed a Spectrum Health Medical Group pulmonology specialist, Diego Conci, MD.
Apart from working in Grand Rapids, Dr. Conci holds office hours at Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville several times a week.
I am doing so much better. … I was about ready to make funeral arrangements. In automotive terms, they were blowing the carbon out of my carburetor.
“I sat down with him and he asked me all kinds of questions,” Haas said. “I answered as many as I could. He tested me for a good 45 minutes. He had almost a frown on his face. He said, ‘I want you to get off antibiotics and steroids. I need for you to go to rehab for a while.’”
Ever the jokester, Haas wanted to confirm.
“Are you sure there isn’t a pill?” he asked. “We both had a chuckle.”
Haas didn’t want to exercise. He had pretty much resolved himself to a likely fate. His mom died of breathing difficulties in 2001.
“I watched her go pretty bad,” he said.
He paused. Memories stirred. Tears flowed.
Haas pushed himself beyond what he thought would one day be his fate. He went to the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at United Hospital. He climbed up on the treadmill and, in the process, stepped toward a new life course.
He worked out on the elliptical machine and the arm bike.
He graduated in eight weeks, able to walk 200 feet farther than when he started.
But Haas wasn’t ready to quit. He continued at the Pulmonary Rehab Center with maintenance programs.
Therapy has been a blessing, really. A breathing blessing.
When Haas first started therapy in spring 2016, he had to stop and bend over to catch air while trying to walk six minutes in a traffic-cone pattern set up in the hallway.
“I was sucking air, taking all the air out of the room it felt like,” Haas said.
He said his lung problems likely originate from an underlying asthma problem. And from smoking, too.
“I smoked from the time I was about 16 until about age 50,” he said. “I was in ER on vacation in Myrtle Beach (South Carolina). We drove through the night, then went to the ER in Carson City (Michigan).
“They said, ‘We could write you a prescription for oxygen 24/7, or you could throw those cigarettes away,’” he said. “I walked out, tossed the cigarettes in the trash and never looked back.”
Therapy has provided more air than he ever imagined.
“I am doing so much better,” he said. “They told me I’ve gained 71 percent of lung function since I got there. They saved my life. I was about ready to make funeral arrangements. In automotive terms, they were blowing the carbon out of my carburetor.”
Haas said he quickly learned you have to push yourself during therapy.
“When I did, I felt better,” he said.
He’s pushing himself more in the outside world, too. He walks around car shows with his buddies.
“We go all over the state,” Haas said. “That’s how I get a lot of my exercise through the summer months.”
He can get groceries on his own now, instead of gasping for air on the way to the shopping carts.
“I can even get my groceries in from my car and into the apartment,” he said. “I used to have to have somebody help with the grocery part.”
Looking back, Haas knows therapy saved him. And he found himself amazed at how he took to it.
“I would have never thought in 100 years that I would do that,” he said. “The second or third day I was there, I was hooked. I tell them they saved my life.”
Dana Adams, Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab lead at Spectrum Health United Hospital, said Haas is a great success story.
“Larry’s outcome scores improved and Larry noticed he was less short of breath with his activities of daily living,” Adams said. “Just coming to pulmonary rehab is half the battle. If we can get them here, teach them some disease management skills such as breathing techniques, proper use of medications, signs and symptoms of when to call the doctor, and have a little fun, those one to two hours go fast.”
Although Haas credits the pulmonary rehab team for saving his life, Adams said Haas is the one who did all the work.
“We provided the space and taught him the skills, but he put everything together to manage his COPD, rather than his COPD controlling him,” Adams said.