Respiratory Therapist Craig Dickson recalls one boy who came through the Comox Valley Hospital, virtually unable to participate in gym class or even run with his friends.

Lungs taxed and energy low, no one knew why.

What tests in the Pulmonary Function Testing Chamber finally showed was undiagnosed asthma, that once recognized – and properly treated – allowed the boy to enjoy life again.

Dickson shares similar stories of others whose COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – was so bad they had given up golf, believing sport was impossible due to the disease’s progression. When testing revealed other treatment options, they were back on the links, enjoying the physical and social benefits of their favourite activity.

The two cases illustrate the diversity of patients the hospital’s Heart and Lung Department sees.

While patients have benefited from lung function testing for about 60 years, regular advances in equipment and treatments have allowed for significant quality of life improvements.

Today, as the hospital’s existing Pulmonary Function Testing Chamber reaches the end of its life, the Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation hopes to raise $81,500 through grants and fundraising to afford the new equipment. With the ability to run five different lung function tests, the new chamber will allow for quicker, more comprehensive diagnosis and improved patient care.

“If we can treat a person before the disease gets bad, we can really change their outcome,” Dickson says.

Pulmonary function tests measure how well a person’s lungs work. An estimated 70 per cent of Heart and Lung Department patients experience COPD, an inflammatory lung disease obstructing airflow. A further 20 per cent have asthma, with 10 per cent experiencing diseases causing lung scarring. Many experience more than one condition.

Helping healthcare in the Comox Valley for nearly 30 years

Supporting acute, community and long-term care needs, the Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation has worked with donors to enhance local healthcare since 1993.

Recognizing that a stellar medical team is even better when working with leading technology, the Foundation helps provide vital tools so local healthcare providers can deliver exceptional patient care.

With the aging Testing Chamber requiring frequent maintenance and repairs, the new equipment will be more available. Currently seeing 8 to 10 patients per day – more than 3,300 patients a year – it is estimated that the new machine will allow more than 150 patients to be diagnosed sooner, improving patient care and quality of life.

Island Health has also funded an additional staff member for the department, further increasing capacity by about 100 patients per month. This addition, combined with the new Testing Chamber, is anticipated to reduce wait times significantly.

Increased capacity isn’t the only benefit, Dickson notes.

The modern chamber allows for quicker sharing of results among the healthcare team, reducing the number of appointments needed, and allows physicians to more easily watch the progression of a patient’s disease, and adjust treatment. It also improves accessibility for those with mobility challenges.

The Pulmonary Function Testing Chamber is just one of the many essential pieces of equipment the Foundation is raising funds for, and whether you buy a 50/50 ticket or make a donation, you’re helping to meet the full range of healthcare needs in the Comox Valley.

Originally published in the Comox Valley Record, July 19, 2021