A new leash on life

Moving is stressful. Living in a new city isn’t easy. Learning your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is getting worse and you’ll need oxygen is downright overwhelming.

That’s the situation Peggy Keleshian found herself in just a few short months ago. Keleshian was diagnosed with COPD years ago. While her initial diagnosis was scary, she was able to get through it in part thanks to her trusted service dog, Reaper.

Reaper is a four-year-old German Shephard that goes everywhere with Keleshian. “When I was first diagnosed with COPD, I thought it was a life sentence, I was just so overwhelmed,” she said. “Fortunately a very smart doctor back home in New Jersey suggested I consider a service dog, and thank goodness I did.”

Reaper has been by Keleshian’s side ever since, including during her recent move to Milford. When she first moved to the area, she immediately began seeing pulmonologist Michel Samaha, MD. Dr. Samaha had Keleshian undergo breathing tests to ascertain the severity and progression of her COPD. Unfortunately, the tests didn’t go as Keleshian planned.

“When Dr. Samaha ordered the breathing tests, and I ultimately failed them, I was heartbroken and just scared. I didn’t want to be on oxygen — I didn’t even understand all that it entailed,” Keleshian said. “But I know this was all a blessing in disguise. Everything that has happened since was meant to be.”

Dr. Samaha says Keleshian was an ideal patient because of her determined attitude and strength during a difficult time. “My office staff and I love Peggy’s warmth and sweetness. She is a great patient who understands her disease and is compliant with her treatment, willing to do anything to improve her health and quality of life,” he said. “She keeps her mind strong and always has a smile on her face; she is a great example for others.”

Keleshian immediately started pulmonary rehabilitation at Bayhealth Milford Memorial and began attending the Better Breathers support group for those with breathing disorders and their care partners. The group is aimed at helping people learn more about COPD and meet with others going through similar situations.

Elizabeth Hurley is a Respiratory Therapy Navigator at Bayhealth and helped Keleshian navigate rehabilitation and the support group. “Despite her feelings of anxiety, she wanted to optimize her health and decided to take a leap of faith by attending our Better Breathers support group,” said Hurley. “She reached out to gain support and make a connection in hopes of finding resources that would help boost her confidence. I wish all of my patients shared Peggy’s zest for life.”

Keleshian admits she was nervous at first. “I’m young at heart, but all I could think was, ‘I’m an old lady — I don’t need to join a club.’ But it was great, and I’m so glad I did,” she said. “I’ve learned so much through the support group. It’s so nice to be with other people who are going through the same thing. That’s such a great resource.”

“Peggy takes the information she learns and incorporates it into her lifestyle,” said Hurley. “She is determined to maximize her quality of life and slow the progression of her disease by managing it well.”

Keleshian says since moving to southern Delaware and going to the Better Breathers, she’s come out of her shell. “I do more on my own now than I ever did. I venture out; I go for walks with Reaper. I’ve seen a tremendous improvement in my quality of life,” she said. “Everyone I’ve worked with through the Better Breathers support group and the pulmonary rehab has been wonderful. They’ve been upfront with my diagnosis but so clear in the plan for treatment. I never felt alone in the process — I always felt that I had support.”

To learn more about Bayhealth’s Better Breathers support group, call Respiratory Therapy Navigator Elizabeth Hurley at 302-430-5902 or visit Bayhealth.org/Breathe-Better.

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