With a career as a coal miner comes well-known risks. Over time, workers inhaling coal dust results in pulmonary challenges that include shortness of breath and wheezing combined with mucus. Far too many receive the deadly diagnoses of incurable black lung.
During a time of alarming surges in black lung cases throughout Central Appalachia came New Beginnings Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Inc., in Norton, Virginia. It was established in 2013 by former pharmaceutical sales representative Marcy Tate, whose father, grandfather, and father-in-law plied their respective trades in coal mines.
A new type of treatment
Treatments for black lung disease were once limited to inhalers, supplemental oxygen, and, for those eligible, lung transplants. Collaborating with pulmonologists and conducting ten years of experiments resulted in the creation of pulmonary rehabilitation combining upper and lower extremity and breathing exercises, nutrition education, and smoking cessation.
The clinic also provides cardiovascular and strength training that encompasses light weightlifting and modified exercises on stationary bikes and treadmills.
The program’s objective is to reduce suffering and improve the quality of life for miners dealing with this incurable disease. They can breathe more deeply, regain some of the strength and stamina lost to a black lung, minimize hospitalization, and overall do things that they previously could not due to breathing challenges, weakness, and fatigue.
Many miners make visits to the clinic a group outing, reteaming and re-bonding with co-workers. Anecdotally, some of their spouses are seeing improved moods at home with significantly reduced “grouchiness.”
Data supports the effectiveness of pulmonary rehab. However, resources are becoming scarce due to a reduction in pulmonary multidisciplinary teams. Walker has opened an additional four clinics throughout the region and plans to launch two more.