Get breathless for pulmonary hypertension.
Do you know that feeling when you are hiking and fresh cold mountain air is going through your nostrils all the way down to the lungs? Some people don’t have this joy anymore in their life. I had the privilege of meeting the patients who have pulmonary hypertension and their doctors from their civil association, here in Slovak Republic. I made a speech about freediving(breath hold diving) and
its physiology and psychology. But those people were not the only ones who learned something new. They gave me a lecture as well.
What is pulmonary hypertension (PH)?
PH is a rare lung disorder in which the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. As a result, the blood pressure in these arteries — called pulmonary arteries — rises far above normal levels. This abnormally high pressure strains the right ventricle of the heart, causing it to expand in size. Overworked and enlarged, the right ventricle gradually becomes weaker and loses its ability to pump enough blood to the lungs. This could lead to the development of right heart failure. Scientists believe that the process starts with injury to the layer of cells that line the small blood vessels of the lungs. What can cause it? Nothing, the diet drug “fen-phen”,liver diseases, rheumatic disorders, lung conditions,certain heart diseases,thromboembolic disease, low-oxygen conditions, genetics. PH is a serious illness that can be fatal. Although pulmonary hypertension isn’t curable, treatments are available that can help lessen symptoms.
Freediving is a lot about breathing and lungs itself so the topic fitted perfectly into the program. When practicing deep freediving, our lungs are getting compressed under the raising pressure, they get filled with blood, they can be packed with extra and extra litres of air before a dive. Breathing is the only process in our body which is happening spontaneously due to autonomic nerve system, but in same time it can be particularly controlled by our will. That makes breathing very special as we can use different breathing techniques to have an positive affect on our physical and mental health. Specific breathing exercises are harder to perform for patients with PH, but can still be beneficial as a part of treatment when chosed carefully. However, we are still working on possibilities.
The strength of people with PH is impressive.
Some of them were professional athletes when all the sudden they could not walk the stairs. Their muscles were strong yet breathing and heart did not follow. Some of them are breathing with new lungs now, recovering from transplantation and taking medication till end of their life to repress an immune system from attacking new organ. Woman with this disease can’t have children because of risks. A lot of them are young, intelligent and perspective people who do not know how long they will actually be here. Still, those people were laughing with me, they tried all breathing exercises I gave to them, they enjoyed the party and some of them were planning other sport orientated program for next month. They just managed to climb Rysy (nearly 2500m above the sea level) in our beautiful Slovakian mountains, High Tatras. It was rainy and temperature of the air was close to zero, when they reached the top of the mountain. I felt very good in their company and I hope I made their evening interesting, because they made me to realize that we can appreciate and be happy about the smallest things imaginable. That even we do not have everything we can be happy and grateful for what we have and don’t cry for what we don’t. I was impressed by them.
I faced wheel chair once, but I never faced death.
Or such a big frustration and depression which comes with this disease. It is possible to change the way we think and approach life. It is possible to learn how to let go and focus on what beautiful can be done in the present. It is up to us.When the evening finished, I went to have a shower and I cried. I cried because I suddenly thought about that few lung squeezes I had in my freediving career. Even I get squeezed very, very rarely, I hugged my lungs and I told them that I can’t promise this, but I will do everything possible to never hurt them again.
Unfortunately, people with PH can’t do the dives. But we will meet again and work with our breathing and minds on a dry land, still using so much from world of freediving. I can’t wait!
Let’s support patients and research of PH! Together, we can make a difference.
Slovak Republic: http://phaslovakia.org/1628-2/ Europe: http://www.phaeurope.org/