A new rehabilitation center at Sparks Medical Center-Van Buren aims to reduce hospital readmissions for patients struggling with pulmonary issues.

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program is located at Sparks Medical Center — Van Buren’s Outpatient Physical Therapy Department, 2020 Chestnut, Suite 106.

The clinic with several new pieces of high-tech exercise equipment has the capacity to see up to 20 patients a week.

Cheryl Earls, a respiratory therapist for nearly 20 years, is the Pulmonary Rehabilitation coordinator at the facility.

“By teaching a patient how to control their breathing and adapt to the changes in their body, we can get them back to enjoying daily activities and reduce their chance of being hospitalized again,” Earls said.

LeAnn Karnes, director of Physical Rehabilitation at Sparks, showed several pieces of rehabilitation equipment that is used for both physical therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation at the clinic. The machines include two SciFit treadmills, two SciFit recumbent steppers, two recumbent bikes and a recumbent upper body ergonometer.

Dr. Kalyan Akkineni, an internal medicine physician with Sparks, said the rehabilitation programs help reduce patient readmissions and “improve the quality of life.”

An aging population and a high number of cigarette smokers contribute to the high percentage of people suffering from COPD, Earls added.

Planning for the facility began about one year ago, according to Aimee Arzoumanian, assistant CEO of Sparks Health Systems. Arzoumanian said Sparks saw a need to emphasize an opportunity for improvements to patients who suffer from pulmonary problems. The rehab center opened up about one month ago and has taken referrals from local physicians since then. 

According to the American Lung Association, millions of Americans suffer from chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The doctor-supervised program will benefit those with chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema, COPD, chronic bronchitis, asthma, cystic fibrosis or lung tumors, according to information provided by Sparks.

The program is also often used before and after lung surgery. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to "help patients return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life." 

These goals are often met by smoking cessation, managing medications, and exercises to improve lung capacity and fitness, such as walking, blowing bubbles and playing harmonica. Patient and family education and counseling are also offered. And there is assistance with obtaining respiratory equipment and portable oxygen.

"There's no cure for COPD, but the good news is that it can be found early," Earls said in a news release. "Much can be done to treat and help manage the disease.  

Once referred to the program, a simple breathing test and a six-minute walking test will help the Pulmonary Rehab staff at Sparks Van Buren determine the next step in a personalized care plan.

Sparks also operates a cardiac rehab program in Fort Smith. Sparks Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery is at 600 Lexington Ave. in Fort Smith.