Elton Martin

By Elton Martin

Elton Martin, 80, establishes assistance fund to help patients with chronic lung diseases breathe a little easier

Elton Martin has always been in a hurry. He was born in the backseat of his father’s car, while his parents were waiting for the ferry to shuttle them across the Columbia River.

“That was before they had any bridges in The Dalles,” said Elton, 80.

When he was a young man ready to take on the world, Elton could not wait to move up to Alaska. They paid big money for machinists, his chosen profession.

“I had the opportunity to go, so I just went,” he said. “It was a good move for me because I met my wife, Nancy, up there. We raised five children.”

After 30 years in Alaska, the couple retired to the home in Wamic, Oregon where Elton was raised. But he could not wait to get back to work. There was not enough to do around the house and he was driving his wife crazy.

The then 62-year-old enrolled in truck driving school to obtain a commercial driver’s license and then drove long haul with his brother. He was working locally when they took away his license last year. He couldn’t pass the physical due to chronic breathing problems.

“If they hadn’t taken my license I’d still be working,” he said. “I loved every minute of it.”

After suffering for years from shortness of breath, in 2000 Elton was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which was later aggravated by an accident.

COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., but the condition is treatable. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing and mucus production. After the accident, Elton graduated from MCMC’s pulmonary rehabilitation program at Water’s Edge in The Dalles.

For the pulmonary rehab specialists at MCMC, therapy is more than a job, Elton said.

“I could get pretty emotional about this,” he said. “I love those people so much. They have helped me beyond measure. They’ve taught me how to breathe differently, how to exercise to keep my lungs as healthy as they are. The main thing with pulmonary rehab, they are caring. Their hearts are with everybody that walks through the door.”

The program graduates 45-65patients every year, said Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator Susan Benedict, a nurse at MCMC.

“When a Pulmonary Rehab patient graduates, they get their life back,” she said. “They can do things that shortness of breath was preventing them from doing. Some patients start the program on oxygen and then get healthy enough that they no longer need it.”

Graduates report going grocery shopping without gasping for air, walking from the car to the house without having to stop to catch their breath and taking a shower with less shortness of breath, Susan reports.

Last winter, Elton was taking the program for a second time when he noticed a woman with breathing problems who needed to use a nebulizer twice in one hour. Nebulizers are inhaled medicines that deliver medication directly into the lungs that can help manage COPD and other lung conditions.

The woman explained to a nurse that she wanted to enroll in the Phase III Pulmonary Rehabilitation program, but her insurance would not pay for it and she did not have the money for the monthly fee.

“She was crying,” Elton said. “God said, ‘Do something.’”

Elton is an active member of Dufur Christian Church, where he also volunteers. He was looking for purpose when he overheard the pulmonary patient recount her sad story.

To help her and other patients like her, Elton is working with the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation to establish a patient assistance fund to help others going through the pulmonary rehab program. He has already raised about $3,600, which has helped multiple low-income patients.

“I’ve been looking for the direction God wanted me to go,” he said. “I believe this is it. If I can keep my health for just a little while, I will put forth the effort it takes to accomplish something.”

Side Bar to Story

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Assistance Program Helps Patients Breathe Easier, Live Better

The pulmonary rehabilitation program at MCMC helps patients with chronic lung diseases such as COPD breathe easier. Patients learn breathing strategies, energy conservation techniques and receive nutritional counseling and exercise training.

Patients have access to the comprehensive training facilities, multiple outpatient centers and several integrated therapy programs after graduating from the 10-week program.

Using these resources, MCMC’s pulmonary rehabilitation specialists create a comprehensive treatment plan to improve lung capacity and abilities, which may include dietary recommendations, exercise regimens, stress reduction tools and more.

Donations to the Pulmonary Rehab Fund can be made by sending a check to the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation at 1700 E 19th Street, The Dalles, OR97058, or online at www.mcmc.net/give