Ron Fleenor has worked with his hands his entire life. He tends to the two acres where he and his wife, Nancy, live. He toils away in his workshop, creating furniture for their home and child-sized tables for their grandkids. Prior to his retirement, Ron worked for 42 years as a pressman at R.R. Donnelley & Sons in Mattoon.
He was squeezing every ounce of enjoyment from his retirement years— until he wasn’t. “I was getting short of breath, while doing the things I’d always done. I blamed it on being overweight, but it got worse in 2020,” Ron said. In fact, it got so bad that he couldn’t get out of his chair. Nancy called an ambulance, and in the Sarah Bush Lincoln Emergency Department, he was diagnosed with double pneumonia, emphysema and fibrosis.
The 76-year-old wasn’t too surprised by the diagnoses. “I smoked for about 40 years, but I’d quit 20 years ago. I’ve also worked around chemicals and paper and wood dust most of my life, and I didn’t take the precautions I should have taken, like wearing a protective mask,” he explained.
While hospitalized, Ron was on oxygen 24 hours a day and couldn’t leave the hospital until he was down to 6 milliliters of oxygen. Once discharged, SBL Home Care looked after him. Next, Ron began attending Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes through SBL METS (Monitored Exercise Testing Services) in 2021. The program combines exercise and education so participants can learn more about maintaining and improving their health and lung capacity.
Ron said, “It helped me immensely. Each day the staff took my vitals, and we all exercised at our own paces. I was fat. I was pushing 200 pounds. But while we exercised, we learned about breathing and diet and living with reduced lung capacity. I’m never going to regain my full lung capacity, but I have learned how to make the most of what I have. My goal is to not lose any more function.” Nancy, who leads a holistic lifestyle, helped Ron make incremental changes in his diet.
While he has graduated from the Pulmonary Rehab program, Ron continues to attend a few days a week to help him stay on target, and he works out on the treadmill and uses the exercise equipment at the YMCA near his home in rural Toledo. He leaves an oxygen tank there, in case he needs it while exercising.
Ron received the best news possible. After two years, there was no change in his lung capacity, which was described as severely damaged. “I’ve made some friends in class, and even go to dinner together occasionally. We all have similar health issues and that helps form camaraderie. One of the men I work out with was stationed in the same place I was in Vietnam. I didn’t know him then though.”
Despite Ron’s lung health, he maintains an active lifestyle, taking care of their acreage and continuing his woodworking. “When it’s nice outside, I will move my woodworking out of the shop, so the wind blows the dust away,” he said. Ron also enjoys the country lane that he and Nancy live on, and he walks it a couple of miles at a time. Ron is determined to keep moving and breathing for as long as he can.
For more information about Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes offered through METS, call 217 238-4973.