Ardath Gill has had asthma all of her 69 years. In September 2009, a really bad attack nearly killed her.
Three million Canadians have asthma and each year 250 die from it. It’s a condition described by doctors as a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway. Symptoms include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
Asthma attacks have no set pattern. Gill had three asthma attacks last year but none so far this year. Another one is coming, she knows.
Asthma will always be part of her life, but Gill is using exercise as an effective way to get off some of the debilitating medication and take back the reins on her life.
The six participants of the Times Colonist Health Challenge are also trying to get their lives back on track through healthy eating and workouts with personal trainers. The 12-week program will wind up in mid-April at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence.
None of those taking part in the TC Health Challenge have to deal with a condition as serious as asthma. Gill now has 60 per cent of normal airway capacity. That means she can no longer run or do strenuous sports such as downhill skiing, a lifelong passion.
Gill also had a 30-year career at Royal Jubilee Hospital, first as a lab technician, then in the cancer clinic and finally in information technology.
Her life changed in September 2009 when a major asthma attack sent her to hospital by ambulance where medication was used to break up the phlegm in her chest.
“I really thought I was dying,” she said. “You have no idea how scary it is when you can’t breathe.”
Gill was sent home and ordered to rest, with only short walks in non-polluted places. Her husband Les frequently drove her to Island View beach, and afterward she’d return to bed to sleep for several hours.
After a few months, Gill wanted to get her strength back. Her lungs were weak and fragile, but she wanted to feel better, stronger.
She worked out under a doctor’s supervision. Then she walked into the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, which is a short distance along Interurban Road from her home, and asked for help.
Visiting the gym was at first intimidating, she said.
“I wasn’t a gym person but I knew I had to go where I would get proper training.”
She signed up to get twice-a-week sessions with a personal trainer. A PISE staff person trained in industrial first-aid had to oversee her workouts.
She carried emergency medication in case she suffered an attack — exercise can be a trigger — but fortunately, over three years she hasn’t had had a problem at the gym.
Today, Gill is feeling great.
“It’s nice to have that sense of well-being and feeling you’ve got muscles. There’s that sense of ‘Oh, I’ve got some strength.’ ”
When she first went to PISE, she wasn’t strong enough to balance on one leg. Today she can dead-lift more than 100 pounds.
Before, she would burst into tears at the vast array of medication, including the steroid prednisone, she had to take daily. Today, she’s down to two pills and two cordicosteriod inhalers.
“Now I look forward to going to the gym. It’s become a way of life, a part of our lifestyle,” said Gill, adding that exercise “makes a huge difference.”
She’s benefiting in other ways, too. Gill also has osteoporosis, and has gained eight per cent more bone density since doing weight-bearing exercises.
© Copyright 2013