Michael Charles with nurse Tess Macalintal.
Michael Charles with nurse Tess Macalintal.

Living with COPD: How one patient is breathing easier with support from nurse Tess Macalintal

When Tess Macalintal was a young girl, she almost drowned during a family vacation.

She was playing in a lake when she ventured into deeper water and suddenly lost her footing. Tess couldn’t swim. Her head went underwater and she panicked. Thankfully a helping hand was close by and brought her to the surface.

She will always remember that feeling of not being able to breathe.

Today, as a registered nurse, Tess cares for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH). COPD is a group of progressive lung diseases that cause patients to have difficulty breathing. The two most common COPD conditions include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Residents in the MGH catchment area have the highest rates of COPD in the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). In fact, in the hospital’s catchment, 24 per cent of seniors aged 65 and older have COPD.

When patients with COPD are in distress, they feel short of breath and feel like they can’t take in enough air. This makes them feel very anxious and panic can set in.

“When I come in and see my patient is in distress and very short of breath, I stay with them, I try to calm them down with breathing exercises and give them their inhaler,” says Tess. “It really touches me; I can put myself in their place when they feel like they can’t breathe.”

For Michael Charles, having COPD has meant changing his lifestyle. He used to enjoy riding his bike and taking long hikes through the Don Valley trails.

“Once COPD enters the picture it’s very hard to deal with, it’s a very controlling disease, it changes your whole lifestyle and it’s important to follow a strict routine,” he says.

Michael takes inhalers twice per day and always keeps one nearby for emergencies. Medications used to treat COPD include inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids, usually self-administered through an inhaler device.

It’s important for family members and health care providers to be understanding, Michael notes, “When we have a flare up, we may be late or need to cancel appointments.”

During his recent stay at the hospital, Michael and Tess formed a close bond. “Tess is fantastic; she really understands what I’m going through,” says Michael.

Tess notes that it’s important for patients like Michael to follow their treatment regimen, stay calm, and take it easy.

“He knows his routine and how to take his inhalers.  We’ve developed a friendship.”

“It’s very rewarding when I see my patients feeling better, and hear them speak in a full sentence – knowing that they can breathe again.”

Tess and the respiratory team at MGH are working to improve the care and experience for patients living with COPD in the East Toronto community.  At MGH, patients with COPD are cared for in the Chest Centre, out-patient clinic and in the acute in-patient respiratory ward.

Patients are cared for by an interprofessional team, including: respirologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and transition navigators.

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