Butterflies Lift Spirits of Patients With Lung Disease

September 19, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP – Most would agree butterflies are beautiful, representing a carefree spirit as they dip and twirl through the air.

Respiratory therapist Diane DeClerck gives patients at Henry Ford Macomb Pulmonary Rehab a chance to share in that beauty and freedom. She raises monarch butterflies and each fall she brings in chrysalises. Patients have a chance to watch the butterflies hatch, their wings slowly unfolding. Then comes the thrill of releasing the increasingly rare insect into the sky and watching it take flight toward Mexico.

Pulmonary rehab patients are dealing with chronic, often debilitating diseases that, in addition to everything else, can trigger some depression.

“I feel that butterflies are healing,” DeClerck said. “They represent new life and it is so uplifting to be able to hold and release a butterfly.”

She said many patients and others she has shared her hobby with tell her they feel lighter and have a sense of renewal and even relief after releasing a butterfly.

“It’s so awesome. Diane is something special,” says patient Christine Bergeron of Clinton Township. “It’s amazing how something so delicate can go so far.

Bergeron, 62, has emphysema, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She started having lung problems in 2005 but it was in 2009 that her health started to get worse. She is waiting for a lung transplant.

“My doctors tell me I am a perfect candidate. I’m healthy in every way except my lungs are broken,” she said.

Pulmonary rehab is a structured, medically supervised program of education and exercise for people with breathing issues. It helps patients retain or regain strength

“I have trouble walking from here to there. I don’t know what I would be like if I wasn’t in pulmonary rehab,” she said.

But it isn’t easy. She said often healthy people don’t want to work out.

“Imagine if you had trouble breathing,” she said. “But it’s something that we have to do. And I do feel so much better afterward. You just have to tell yourself you have to do it – it’s the most important thing you will do today.”

She said the family atmosphere and thoughtful gestures like a butterfly release make it just a little bit easier.

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Pulmonary Rehab patients, from left, Christine Bergeron, Lauri Kazak, respiratory therapist Diane DeClerck and Frances Brown release monarch butterflies. “You can’t help but smile when you hold one and then it suddenly flies away,” said Frances.