Breathing Easy after Transplant


I felt confused, and was not sure that I would even live to see another day because breathing had become so difficult,” says Chalmbers. “I was in really bad condition. The doctors said that I was at death’s door and that if I didn’t get the transplant I probably would have died.”

Because of the severity of his condition, Keith was hospitalized at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania while waiting for his double lung transplant. In order to strengthen his body for the upcoming transplant surgery, acute therapists worked with Keith prior to transplant.

“Having physical therapy before undergoing transplant surgery made a difference,” said Chalmbers. Therapists brought a bike into my room which I spent 15 minutes a day on daily.”

Within 29 days of being listed, Keith received a double lung transplant in March 2015. After his successful transplant surgery, Keith began the next steps in his recovery with the help of the acute therapists in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Post-transplant, acute therapists worked with Keith on gait training (walking) and strengthening his body.

"I couldn't walk after my transplant surgery because I had been in bed for so long, but the therapists got me out of bed and taught me how to walk again.” says Keith. “Eventually we began walking the hallways together and I could see my body getting stronger each day.”

In May 2015, Keith was discharged from the hospital and began outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation at the Perelman Center. For several weeks, Keith worked with physical therapist Derek Zalenski, PT, DPT, to continue towards the next steps of his recovery. During his three day a week, two hour sessions, Keith began to rebuild his strength and stamina.

“In less than three months post-transplant, I am able to walk on the treadmill at a speed of 2.45 for 45 minutes. With Derek, I am able to do squats, lift 4 lbs. overhead during thrust exercises and can curl 6 lbs.,” says Keith.  “Derek wants to see me get better, and I am. The therapy that I received in the hospital and through outpatient therapy has helped my recovery.”

Physical therapy is a critical part of a successful recovery for lung transplant patients as they learn to adjust to life post-transplant.IMG_1903

“Rehabilitation is an integral part of the recovery process. Patient’s review and relearn proper airway clearance and breathing retraining techniques, as well as progress through a strenuous strengthening and reconditioning process, which specifically focuses on addressing a patient’s strength, balance, endurance and range of motion impairments,” says Derek. “The most important part of the experience for the patient is for them to have constant and consistent communication with their transplant team.”

During the summer of 2105, Keith graduated from outpatient rehabilitation with the renewed capabilities.

“Through his perseverance in our therapy sessions, he has shown tremendous progress since beginning outpatient therapy. He has regained full lower extremity strength and routinely scores perfect to near perfect on his dynamic balance tests,” says Derek. “Keith can now walk unlimited distances in the community and has returned to a modified role as a deacon in his local church.”

Through the continuum of care experienced throughout his entire transplant journey, Keith is now oxygen free and looking forward to a bright future.

“I'm looking forward to acting as an advocate for other patients and letting people know that it does get better.”