“He walked my tail off getting my lung function back up,” Nies said. “I usually ended up walking about an hour a day. My breathing got much better. My oxygen levels went up.” Nies also took a regimen of medications to keep his airways open and immediately halt any lung infections. The therapy varies from patient to patient. Some start more slowly, with five or 10 minutes of walking a day. Often, Tiep administers extra oxygen to patients to allow them to exercise even before their lungs are strong enough on their own. At major hospitals around the county – Huntington Hospital, the USC and UCLA medical centers and City of Hope – this pulmonary rehabilitation can give lungs, and some lung cancer patients, a second chance. But it’s not necessarily the right treatment for every lung cancer patient. “You have to weigh the risk of waiting to really rehabilitate the patient,” Cohen said. With each passing day of the three- to six-week therapy, the cancer has a greater chance of spreading. Some patients’ lungs are too damaged by years of smoking and disease to ever recover enough for surgery, Cohen said. But even when surgery – the most effective treatment for lung cancer – is not an option, pulmonary rehabilitation might get patients in good enough shape for radiation or chemotherapy. Other factors are also likely to interfere. Despite the support of doctors such as Kernstine, Cohen and Tiep, pulmonary therapy is not universally available. In part, this is because its benefits are not well researched – though City of Hope is planning some studies. And some insurance programs stopped covering it years ago, causing many hospitals to drop their programs, Kernstine said. Some programs are staging a comeback, but “it is still a challenge to get patients into formal pulmonary rehab,” Cohen said. “I would love to see more formal pulmonary rehab be available in our area.” [email protected] (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4451160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“There are a number of patients out there who get turned down for lung cancer surgery by surgeons who might not have the ability or experience to be aggressive,” said Dr. Robbin Cohen, chief of thoracic surgery at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. There is, however, another option. With a few weeks of intense preparation, many patients like Nies could be transformed from a very high risk condition to one fit enough for the operation. “Brian \ has taken people that were on oxygen and has helped them get to a point that they don’t need it anymore,” said Dr. Kemp Kernstine, the director of the City of Hope’s lung cancer program. Tiep, a doctor at the City of Hope and the founder of the Respiratory Disease Management Institute of Pomona, is responsible for whipping the lungs of such risky patients into shape. DUARTE – David Nies was 68 when his doctor diagnosed him with lung cancer. Until a year before that, he had been a smoker, and for 15 years he had chronic bronchitis and emphysema. His scarred and battered lungs were in no shape for the surgery necessary to cut the tumor from his body. “They didn’t want to do surgery if it was going to lead me to somewhere where I had to be on oxygen or be in a wheelchair,” he said. At many hospitals, that might have been the end of the story. He would have been sent home, to be slowly killed by cancer rather than risk dying in surgery or remaining tethered to an oxygen bottle for the rest of his life.