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People work out at the Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at Berkshire Medical Center.

PITTSFIELD -- While going for a walk, Bill Latimer felt a searing pain in his chest. The burning pain spread from his chest to his shoulder, forcing him to a stop.

A visit with doctors identified a blocked artery and, in December 2012, he had an operation to insert a stent in his heart artery. He was then enrolled in a rehab program -- a series of unforeseen events that left a dent in his wallet.

Three days a week, for three months, Latimer was making a co-payment to attend the rehab program.

"You end up paying a lot of money, even with a good insurance program," Latimer said. "You’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars over a few months."

Fortunately, Latimer benefitted from a fund that helps people who are enrolled in the Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at BMC -- but funds are running out due to its popularity.

The program helps middle- and-low income residents by paying half of their co-payment, which can range from $10 to $50 a visit. At one time, the program, founded in 2006, had $60,000, but that has dwindled down to about $10,000 prior to a recent fundraiser, according to Ann Marie Sadlowski, a nurse and director of the rehabilitation center.

"I’d probably only have people stay for a third of the program [without the assistance]" said Sadlowski, The program helped 100 people last year, she said.

Patients enrolled in the Cardiac/ Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program are the only ones eligible for funds. The rehab program helps people who are recovering from heart attacks, post-stent surgery, angioplasty and congestive heart failure. There is also assistance for those with chronic pulmonary obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.

"Ninety percent of the people who do apply, do qualify financially because there are liberal income guidelines," Sadlowski said.

Latimer, 62, an editor of books who was freelancing at the time, could always comfortably pay every-day bills -- but he said saving $75 a week was more than pocket change.

"The funds make it possible for even people of moderate means to more easily afford the rehabilitation program and the program itself can be life-saving and life-enhancing experience," Latimer said.

Latimer completed the rehabilitation, and more than a year later, he has undergone a lifestyle change with continued exercise.

Prior to the operation, Latimer said he was living a sedentary lifestyle, prompted by pain in the lower back and hip, due to arthritis and a degenerative disk. He’s now 55 pounds lighter, and he’s regularly using the elliptical and walking on a treadmill five days a week.

"I am looking forward to going hiking again," Latimer said.

The intensive rehabilitation following a pulmonary or cardiac condition might be costly, but it’s important, according to Sadlowski.

A study shows patients who receive 36 sessions following a cardiac procedure have a 14 percent lower risk of death, according to an industry trade group.

Latimer returned to work right after the stent, but there are many others who are financially strapped.

"[If] you’ve been out of work, the bills are coming in ... you’re not going to be paying $20 to $30 a visit," Sadlowski said. "The biggest barrier those who go to pulmonary rehab face, and it keeps getting worse, is your co-pay keeps going up."

The fund most recently benefited from a fundraiser and silent auction, hosted by UNICO. The event raised an additional $10,000 for the fund.

Anyone interested in donating can write a check to the Berkshire Medical Center Friends of Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab. Checks can be sent to Berkshire Medical Center at 725 North St., attention Ann Marie Sadlowski.

For additional informational, call Sadlowski at (413) 447-3095.

Berkshire Medical Center has also established assistance funds for people who are in need of colonoscopy screenings and mammograms at the hospital. The hospital Women’s Imaging Center also provides assistance for patients to pay for wigs and other items they may need.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata