Better Breathing Hawke's Bay participant Vernon Taylor has a new lease on life.

Heart failure patients can now benefit from better breathing support thanks to a Hawke's Bay District Health Board funding initiative.

The funding comes after a successful 18-month pilot, Better Breathing Hawke's Bay, incorporating 59 heart failure patients with breathing difficulties into the DHB's pulmonary rehabilitation programme, normally delivered to chronic respiratory disease patients. Participants of the pilot, completed earlier this year, attended twice-weekly, two-hour group sessions focused on exercise and education over eight weeks.

Programme participant Vernon Taylor's breathlessness began about 2010. He puts it down to being a smoker from when he was about 11.

"There was no education about what smoking did to you back then. It was promoted everywhere you looked — on the TV there were cigarette ads and at the movies. My whole family smoked — it was just what they did."

Vernon, 64, went on to develop emphysema and pneumonia before receiving a double lung transplant last year. He had been on two waiting lists before the operation, the second one an active list after joining the Better Breathing programme.

"My name was put forward to join the gym. It was the biggest and best thing I ever did and made being on the active list so much easier. I'd recommend it to anyone with breathing problems."

Vernon says the low-grade exercises, undertaken at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park, kept him fit and helped before his operation.

"The nurses at the gym were inspiring — they made me want to do it."

Although Vernon's operation was a success, he still attends the programme.

"I've been with the course ever since. We cycle, go on the treadmill and do some weights. We don't have to go hard out, just get the heart pumping. It helps you breathe. I'm living proof you can do it. I love it."

Better Breathing participant Jan Turner had a medical event at work that left her with ongoing breathlessness. She put up with it for a couple of years before being referred to the respiratory nurse by her GP. Jan says the weather can affect her breathlessness.

"The weather has a lot to do with it. If it's hot and still, I can't get my breath."

She says the pulmonary course has been a huge help.

"It's been absolutely magic. We get all the training and breathing exercises. Our lessons are very, very helpful."

Jan says the nurses watch while she is on the exercise machines at the Latham St-based facility.

"I really look forward to it. We are also given things to read for our own learning. It makes you want to do more. You then know how to help your breathing if you do get breathless. It's brilliant."

She says the programme has helped take a lot of the stress away.

"If you have breathing problems it can be very stressful. Now I can do what I've been taught. It's incredible and has made a big impact. I've learned what to do and not be frightened."

She can now walk the dog and exercises more. When she can't breathe, she doesn't panic.

"I do what they've told me. It helps immensely. The ladies are so approachable. You can ask anything. I can't speak highly enough."

Hawke's Bay DHB planning, funding and performance executive director Emma Foster says pilot participants' health and wellbeing had significantly improved, prompting the DHB to fund the ongoing inclusion of heart failure patients.

"An audit of the pilot showed as well as reduced breathlessness and improved fitness, participants had improved self-management skills and health literacy. Equipped with these skills, they were about 50 per cent less likely to present to hospital," she says.

Better Breathing Programme lead and DHB clinical nurse specialist Eileen Hall says the programme is an example of a cornerstone health intervention recognised by the World Health Organisation, Thoracic Society of Australia and NZ, and the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease.

"We used internationally accredited assessment tools to measure improvements in quality of life, fitness and self-management. These tools showed participants had an improved quality of life, among other health outcomes," she says.

The DHB runs group sessions in Napier, Hastings, Central Hawke's Bay, Wairoa and virtually via Zoom. Group sizes are limited to 20.

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