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Competition Breath of Fresh Air

Inova Fairfax Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Hosts Lung Games for past and present patients.

"This is the only Olympics where steroids are encouraged," said Thomas Malinowski, respiratory director at Inova Fairfax Hospital, with a laugh. "It's [steroids] actually a major part of these peoples' treatment and recovery, ironically."

The use of steroids was not the only aspect making these "Olympic" games different; all of these "competitors" were on the same team and playing for the same goal. This goal was to maintain a full and active life despite having suffered or continuing to suffer from respiratory ailments.

"It's about you feeling better and doing the best that you can do," said Leah Junk, a respiratory therapist at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Junk was commenting on the Second Annual Lung Games, which took place Friday, May 11.

"We [the Pulmonary Respiratory Program] are moving forward all the time, and you all are a big part of that," said Junk, as she introduced the day's events. Shortly after Junk spoke, the opening ceremony commenced with respiratory patient, Helmut Reinhardt parading past the crowd as he carried a torch that he designed and made himself. "We had ordered one but Helmut took one look at it and said he'd make another," said Junk.

After singing the National Anthem, patients were then able to participate in a variety of games and recreational exercises.

Bob Dekraft, a 71-year-old Fairfax man who went through a lung transplant 12 years ago, went straight for the exercise bikes. The fact that Dekraft had kept the same lung for over a decade is considered both a medical rarity and personal blessing, as the average transplanted lung usually lasts five to seven years. Dekraft credits the success of his not-so-new-lung with, "following through the doctor's regulations, taking medications, keeping active, thinking positively and setting goals." Among these accomplished goals was Dekraft's recent RV trip.

Despite this apparent medical triumph Dekraft also admitted to having endured several highs and lows.

"At first, there were lots of problems with [lung] rejection, and I was listed for a second transplant, but through medication, the transplant improved and I was able to leave the hospital," he said.

SOMEONE WHO hoped to have Dekraft's success was Heather Cronin of Springfield. Cronin, 33, received a transplanted lung this past October. She credited Inova's Pulmonary Rehab program with getting her physically and emotionally prepared for her operation.

"I was on oxygen fulltime and couldn't do a lot of anything," she said. "Before I got here, nothing improved."

Though Cronin currently leads an active life, enjoying activities including hiking and tennis, she is also aware that her lung could decline within the next ten years. "That's always in the back of your mind, but [without the transplant] I might not have made it to Christmas," Cronin said. "Usually, I'm gleaming just to be alive, but I have seen a therapist because there is anxiety."

Keeping busy also has helped Cronin both before and after she had her operation. This consistent activity is something that Junk said her department was founded upon. "The goal is to just keep moving; that's what this program is about," Junk said, adding that if and when a transplanted lung fails, hope should not be lost.

"You hope to re-transplant and to have the right medications. What is possible now, wasn't [possible] five or ten years ago," she said.

Hope was perhaps the most prominent sediment of the Lung Games, for this feeling was even expressed by those who did not physically participate. One of these spectators was 37-year-old Deeonne Quinones of Washington, D.C., who has been waiting for a bilateral transplant — two new lungs — for the past three months. She said she is" very hopeful" that she will soon receive both transplants.

"What's getting me through is my determination, being obedient, and remaining in pulmonary rehab, which is my number one priority," Quinones said.

Pulmonary rehab, in fact, is the reason why Quinones made the lung recipient list in the first place. "I originally was not eligible for a transplant because I was overweight. When I started pulmonary rehab I lost 23 pounds. ... Exercise is hard for me but they make it fun," she said.

Ironically, it was because of Quinones' lung disease — Sarcoidosis — that she found romantic love. On Feb. 7, she married a man who she first met when he delivered an oxygen tank to her house. "He just knocked on my door," Quinones said.

She eventually asked him out and he proposed on their second date.

For their honeymoon, Quinones and her new husband went on a cruise. The oxygen tank went as well, yet, when asked whether a cruise was an unhealthy risk for someone with failing lungs, Junk could only respond, "it would be more unhealthy to not go."