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New Breath of Life

Betty Miley

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 arrived in southern Indiana, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Although the number of cases locally never reached as high as other states, many individuals and families were affected by the pandemic. Every day it seemed a new friend or loved one was diagnosed or admitted to the hospital. Betty Miley is an 88-year-old Vincennes native who has pre-existing lung issues, and has been in the hospital multiple times for COPD complications and pneumonia. Due to her health history, Betty and her family knew that when she was diagnosed with COVID in November it was going to be a hard journey to beat it and recover.

Betty’s journey at Good Samaritan began in July 2019 when she was referred to Pulmonologist, Dr. Johnathan Grant for COPD. He and his nurse, Kim Hughes, worked with Betty and her daughter, Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Kitchell, to treat her COPD and start her on the right medications. “We worked for a very long time getting the right medications for mom,” said Cindy. “There was a lot of back and forth between insurance companies and pharmacies about which medications would be covered. Kim found a way to get my mom’s medication after months of struggling to find a solution. If I need anything, I can call her. She’s on top of it.”

Throughout the months of trial and error with medications and inhalers, COVID cases were beginning to increase in Vincennes and surrounding communities. Betty had been in the hospital a couple times for other complications, and unfortunately tested positive for COVID on November 13, 2020, a week before Thanksgiving. Her temperature had spiked to 102 and she was admitted to the hospital where she stayed for four days. “With Betty’s age and history of COPD and hypertension, she was at a very high risk of death from COVID,” said Dr. Grant. “Having COPD and an infection can cause severe shortness of breath and other complications.”

Thankfully, Betty did not require a ventilator during her hospital stay. “I had a really bad cough and my energy was gone. All I wanted to do was sleep,” said Betty. “Everyone at the hospital was very nice and the nurses were wonderful.” Although very sick, Betty was able to overcome the virus and return home.

After being discharged from the hospital, Betty was back home trying to return to her normal routine. However, the effects of COVID combined with her COPD, left her extremely weak and unable to do things for herself. “I had to fight to catch my breath and couldn’t do anything at home,” she said. “I would start doing something and then have to go sit and rest for a while because I was so tired.”

Betty’s weakness and breathing issues led her to being referred for Outpatient Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Good Samaritan. The goals of pulmonary rehab are to: help patients return to a more productive and active lifestyle, increase their exercise tolerance and decrease symptoms related to activity, increase independence and ability to perform activities of daily living, help patients understand they are in control of their lives, and to reduce the number of hospitalizations and length of stay.

Working closely with Tammy Howell, Certified Respiratory Therapist, Betty began her rehab on February 1, 2021. “I was supposed to walk for about six minutes on the treadmill the first day and I couldn’t make it past two minutes,” remembered Betty. “I was gasping for breath and almost passed out.” Tammy echoed her comments and stated that they generally start patients out on low settings and gradually increase the pace and difficulty of exercises as the program continues. “Betty has made amazing progress,” said Tammy. “She can now walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, lifts weights, uses our NuStep® machine and the stationary arm pedal bike.”

Betty’s daughter, Cindy, has also seen a great change in her mother. “She is now working circles around everyone and no longer short of breath. I have seen a big change in her,” she said. “She does her own housework and laundry and basically takes care of herself.”

Everyone involved with Betty’s care knows how she would have favored had she not decided to take part in pulmonary rehab. “If I didn’t start therapy I would be on oxygen all the time. I only have to use it now when I sleep,” said Betty. “Tammy has gone out of her way to help me through my respiratory issues. I think I scared her to death when we first started, but I have gotten so much better.”

Dr. Grant mentioned that Betty was fortunate to not have any long-lasting effects to the lungs because of COVID, but other patients face scarring and permanent injury to the lungs leading to patients being on oxygen 24/7. Both Tammy and Dr. Grant have seen a handful of patients who are still recovering from COVID. “The effects of COVID have been mostly temporary in the patients I have seen,” said Dr. Grant. “Their main issue is fatigue and weakness that causes shortness of breath, which is why we refer so many patients to pulmonary rehab like Betty.”

On July 28, 2021, Betty will be celebrating her 89 th birthday. She was born at the end of the Great Depression and has had her share of life experiences. As her final days of pulmonary rehab come to an end, she is now able to spend her days watching television, reading books and crocheting. She received her COVID-19 vaccine and is ready to return back to normal. “I told my daughters I wanted to make it to 100,” she said. “And now I have a better chance of making it all the way to 100 years because of my time with Tammy and everyone at Good Samaritan.”