My name is Fionna Henry, I am a Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke service user.
I have COPD, sleep apnea and arthritis. About 7 years ago I had a mild stroke.
I first met Linzi Davidson (Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke coordinator) at the end of my pulmonary rehabilitation programme; she offered me a home visit to discuss further opportunities that could possibly benefit me.
During the pulmonary rehab class I huffed and puffed my way through the exercise programme, and struggled with my arthritic knees. I did enjoy the classes, but sometimes it really was an effort. If I hadn’t met Linzi that day I would have walked away unaware of the potential opportunities that could be achieved.
Recently someone said to me, “You don’t look sick” – that’s a good thing. But in order to prevent the hidden illnesses coming to the surface, that requires work and effort, and I need all the help I can get, so the NICHS Breathing Better programme fits the bill completely. It is the perfect continuation on from pulmonary rehab. If I hadn’t had this programme after finishing pulmonary rehab I wouldn’t be in such a good healthy place.
I still carry my trusty inhaler with me at all times, just in case. It’s like a security blanket. I don’t always need it, but I know it’s there in case I do.
In September 2018, I joined the Breathing Better programme. The programme provided a wide array of topics to help manage various long term illnesses, including learning how to make realistic action plans in order to avoid disappointment. Problem solving was very helpful. In class from time to time we had what was called ‘Free Think’ discussions, which allowed you to express your own opinions and hear those of other people, without fear of being criticized or shouted down. I am now confident that I can self-manage my conditions. During the programme we were able to purchase a book which deals with long term illnesses. This book is very useful, and I have referred to it several times. It has a very helpful chapter on sleep apnea.
Some of the people I met on the programme were known to me from pulmonary rehab, but the majority were not. So an opportunity presented itself to make new friendships. As the weeks went on friendships were formed, and we continued to learn about the tools we can use to help our conditions.
NICHS coordinators Linzi and Ann were both professional in their approach to this programme, but had fun at the same time.
I want to thank them both for giving me the courage and confidence to be myself. I don’t want to be defined by my illness. I want to be in control of it, not the other way around. They taught us to turn I can’t into I can.
Linzi reminds me of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh, in absolutely the nicest possible way. She is always bouncing around and is full of life and enthusiasm, and obviously loves what she does. Her enthusiasm is very infectious; you can’t help but join in when you are around her.
A component of the Breathing Better Programme is a 12-week free gym membership, known as the Physical Activity Referral Scheme. I was not excited by the prospect of going into a gym. I panicked. I didn’t want to go to the gym. I thought why on earth would I even want to consider this at my age? I had numerous excuses why I couldn’t to this, too old, unfit etc. The list just went on. I had never been near a gym, let alone in one. I always avoided this topic when it came up in our weekly class. At that time, I was walking 5000 steps every day, and thought that was good enough. Despite my reservations I did the induction, only because everyone else was doing it, and I didn’t want to be left out. I felt it wasn’t too bad, so I decided to go back the following week, then I went back again and again. The NICHS staff are amazing – so helpful and supportive.
Now I am proud to go to the gym with the girls, my new found friends, and afterwards, we go for coffee, so we have now turned the gym experience into a social event. Even when I go to the gym on my own there is always someone you know to say hello to.
If the feel good factor from this programme could be bottled and sold, you could make a fortune.
In the beginning, what I failed to understand was that we are all in the same boat. Nobody judges you on your looks, level of physical activity or anything. You have to know your own limitations, and you work to that. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you do, as long as you do something. Anything is better than nothing. We encourage and support each other which helps greatly. It’s not a competition, nor a race. It’s about taking control. My programme has been designed to minimize the risk to the knees, concentrating on upper body work. I work part time, just 20 hours a week and have a very understanding employer, as I have had to juggle my working hours to allow me attend the gym.
There is a sign on the wall in the gym above the treadmills that says “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”, and that’s very true. Every time I go into the gym I push myself to do a little longer on the machines than I did the time before, I am now up to 30 minutes on the treadmill at a reasonable pace.
When I am finished my 12 weeks on the Breathing Better Programme, I want to take out my own gym membership to continue what has already been started.
To say something is life changing is a bit dramatic, but the Breathing Better Programme has certainly involved lifestyle changes, which I have now embraced. I am stubborn by nature, and I don’t like change, but have to admit that I am enjoying my new found health benefits, such as weight loss and breathing better. I feel better, both physically and mentally. My skin, hair and nails are in better condition. My knees are still sore, but I have better movement. I have gained a new found confidence, which isn’t a bad thing either.
This programme is not a miracle cure, you get as much or as little out of this programme as you wish to take, but there’s no limitation to what you can achieve. I have taken up the challenge and the rest is now up to me.
Six months ago, if anyone had said to me, that today I would be going to the gym, eating sensibly and taking care of myself, I would have laughed, but here I am, proof that you are never too old to learn.
Who would have thought such a transformation was possible? Certainly not me…
Fionna has since completed a 5k walk in support of NICHS as part of the 2019 Omagh Half Marathon. She set the goal of completing the 5k in 1 hour and 20 minutes and smashed this by crossing the finish line at 1 hour and 2 minutes!
In addition to this, Fionna volunteers for NICHS and has now been trained to deliver the ‘Taking Control Self-Management Programme’ to help those who were in a similar situation to her.
Find out more about the respiratory services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.