WINSTON BROWN meets Spalding’s Happy Breathers on their first anniversary
For most of us, exercise, energy and effort is a way of life that requires no thoughts of the possible consequences.
But for people diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including its most common forms of either bronchitis or emphysema, even a walk into town can prove impossible with regular stops to regain their breath.
Thankfully, help and support for anyone in Spalding and South Holland diagnosed with COPD is available at the Happy Breathers’ group which meets at the Ivo Day Centre in Albion Street, Spalding, on Thursdays from 1.30pm until 4.30pm.
Lizzie Legg, of West Pinchbeck and one of the group’s founder members, said: “It can be quite isolating for people who have a more severe case of COPD because you suffer from shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in the chest.
“I was diagnosed with COPD two years ago which made it difficult to do anything that involves any effort.
More often than not, someone else who might have the same problems as you can give you access to information that can keep you away from your GPLizzie Legg, of West Pinchbeck, Happy Breathers Group
“However, I joined the Walking for Health group in Spalding and met its leader Suzanne Willis who knew that I had COPD.
“Suzanne asked me to a meeting of Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Services (LCVS) to give our point of view on what might be useful for a COPD group.
“I then started coming to group meetings and it’s been really good, learning such a lot about how COPD can affect anybody and meeting people to talk about your problems.
“More often than not, someone else who might have the same problems as you can give you access to information that can keep you away from your GP.”
Members of the Happy Breathers Group celebrated its first anniversary with a birthday party in Spalding where a Tai Chi session was followed by afternoon tea and music provided by Trevor Cummings.
Suzanne, who won the Volunteer in Healthcare prize at the first-ever South Holland Health Awards in Spalding last year, said: “The group was set up with some funding from South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group and it’s one of six in the East and West Midlands that are part of a pilot based on a project developed in Coventry.
“A working party looked at the best place to set up a COPD group and Spalding is the only one of the six that is more rural in location.
“The idea is to have a community clinic, with some input from respiratory nurses, where advice can be given about COPD.
“As a group, Happy Breathers is part social and part clinical where I organise what we do each week.
“Normally, sessions start with group exercises like Tai Chi, dancing or something else that’s gentle.
“Then we normally have another activity, talk or demonstration, with a guest speaker, crafts or quizzes, with the whole session lasting about three hours.”
Group members travel from Spalding, Holbeach, Pinchbeck and Boston to attend the sessions which can be a lifeline for people with COPD and their families.
Rob Cook, of Spalding, said: “I’d been short of breath for 18 months but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
“So they decided that I should have some breathing and lung tests which was when I was diagnosed with COPD in April.
“Then my wife found out about the Happy Breathers Group on the internet and it’s been beneficial to us.”
Happy Breathers’ Group is a support network for people with COPD, a condition where the airways of the lung become inflamed and air sacs are damaged.
This causes the airways to become narrower, making it harder to breathe in and out, a condition that is incurable.
Common symptoms of COPD include wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound), breathlessness, a tight chest, coughing and producing more mucus or phlegm than usual.
The support group was set up with £25,000 worth of seed funding from The Health Foundation, an independent charity aimed at improving people’s health in the UK.
It came after research by the East Midlands Respiratory Programme in November 2015 found that more than 5,000 people in the South Lincolnshire CCG area (South Holland and part of South Kesteven) may be living with COPD.
David Fannin, LCVS chief executive, said: “What the Happy Breathers’ Group has shown over its first year is that it works and that it’s made enough of a difference to make people feel better and keep them healthier for longer.”