Putting your best health forward: Annual event includes health screenings, programs, more than 100 vendors

Courtesy photo Dr. Michael Zlupko presents information during last year’s Health O Rama.

Most people don’t think about breathing. It’s automatic, but for people whose lungs are compromised with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer, breathing requires effort and each activity is strategically planned.

James Rodgers, 81, of Altoona describes the feeling as “someone is holding your head under water and you are fighting to get a breath.”

Dr. George Zlupko, a pulmonologist with Altoona Lung Specialists, diagnosed Rodgers in 2011 with COPD.

“I quit smoking 20 years ago but the damage was done,” he said. He believes his career as a folding machine operator at a clothing pattern business, impacted his lungs as he worked with and around many chemicals that are now outlawed.

A technique called pursed lip breathing helps, but many find it difficult to do correctly so Zlupko created the Pursed Lip Breathing Device or PBD. Now, when Rodgers experiences shortness of breath, he takes the device from his shirt pocket.

“I was skeptical at first, but my wife urged me to try it and bought it for me. I was amazed that it works,” Rodgers said.

Patricia Young, 77, wears her pursed lip breathing device on a decorative chain that she changes to match her clothing.

“People ask me all the time what it is. One man asked me if it was a whistle,” she said. “I tell everyone how well it works. I don’t know how it works, but it works. I recommend it to anyone with (asthma or COPD).”

Young, who lives near Bellwood, has suffered from asthma and COPD for more than 20 years. She used the pursed lip breathing technique but said the PBD is more effective.

Zlupko will discuss the pursed lip breathing device during the 14th annual Health O Rama, the 2018 Health and Wellness Expo, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Logan Valley Mall. Lung Disease Associates, Select Specialty and UPMC Altoona are primary sponsors and will be joined by more than 100 vendors and health service providers. Health professionals will offer various health screenings to check blood pressure and hearing, offer nutritional services and much more.

In addition to Zlupko, his fellow pulmonologists will also be presenting on various lung-related topics at the main stage located outside of J.C. Penney. (See schedule.)

The day kicks off with the Beacon of Light on Lung Cancer Walk, sponsored by Select Specialty, to benefit the Lung Disease Foundation. Registration begins 7:30 a.m. and awards will be presented at 10 a.m.

Last year’s event raised about $2,000 and Barbara Gerrity received the an award for raising the most funds for several years, said Sherri Stayer, practice manager at Altoona Lung Specialists.

For two hours, walkers raise money by completing a quarter-mile mapped course in the climate-controlled mall. Monies raised go to funding mini-grants for various Blair and Bedford county organizations who work to prevent teen smoking and offer smoking cessation programs for people who wish to quit.

When experiencing breathlessness, a person may become anxious and forget the correct lip positioning, he said. The plastic, cylindrical, orange tube positions the lips appropriately and provides resistance when the inclination is to breath rapidly. It’s a tool to help empty diseased lungs without hyperventilating.

Zlupko created the pursed lip breathing device so his patients had an easily, accessible alternative to using inhalers or other medicines. The $20 device is a product of Keystone Developers, a company owned by Zlupko, and is available on line or purchased at the physician office. It is made by a local company with a three-D printer.

“They can use it as many times as needed during the day,” Zlupko said. “It is effective immediately. The device is unobtrusive as it fits in the hand and provides a sense of security to people who have breathing problems.”

When a person with healthy lungs climbs stairs or walks quickly and experiences shortness of breath, the body instinctively takes deeper breathes and when exertion continues, breathes become more frequent.

“When someone with lung disease experiences shortness of breath the body’s normal response isn’t effective. For a person with lung disease, they have an inability to take deeper breaths and exhale completely due to the disease. So they start to breath faster right away. But this isn’t helpful,” Zlupko said.

Often a patient then hyperventilates and anxiety escalates. When using the device appropriately and according to the instructions, Rodgers said his exhalations are more effective than without it. With his lungs having 40 percent capacity compared to healthy lungs, forcing stale air out is essential.

“It goes with me everywhere,” Rodgers confirmed.

Young wears her PBD everywhere except when she sleeps. She washes the device thoroughly with soapy water daily. It gives her added confidence.

“Before I started using it, I’d get winded and couldn’t get the air out. Then, I’d panic and have an asthma attack,” she said. While she avoids crowds, she said she’s going to try and attend the cook off between George Zlupko and his son and fellow physician Michael Zlupko at the Health O Rama.

The elder Zlupko jokes that he came in second last year and assiduously avoids saying he “lost” the cooking contest.

The theme of the food challenge is a closely guarded secret, but attendees will sample and select the winner at 1 p.m. In past years, the physicians have tried to create the most popular barbecue sauces and pickled vegetables.