Volunteer Profile: Laura Wilder

Laura Wilder Dedication to Patients Carries into Retirement

Sixteen years of devotion to the Better Breathers Club she founded could be the exclamation point at the end of nurse and respiratory therapist Laura Wilder’s career story. But in her retirement, her efforts supporting hundreds of individuals with chronic breathing problems are more like an “etc.”—because Laura’s story, now as a volunteer, goes on and on, long beyond her “working life.”

“I just love the people and can’t imagine not doing the Better Breathers Club!” she says from her home in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Laura, an LPN who returned to school to become a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), worked at Halifax Regional Hospital for 30 years before retiring in 2002. As an RRT, she took on the challenge of creating and building a vibrant Better Breathers Club, which is funded by the hospital and has been supported by the American Lung Association in North Carolina as well as local home healthcare companies. Better Breathers Clubs nationwide create an environment for people with chronic lung diseases—primarily chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (emphysema and chronic bronchitis)—to support one another and learn specific strategies to help them maintain a high quality of life.

We create relationships based on mutual understanding, trust, support.

“We create relationships based on mutual understanding, trust, support,” Laura explains. “People are able to discuss their fears, anxieties and emotional challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis.” The sessions she facilitates often include physicians, specialists and others who help educate patients and their family members about good health habits, warning signs of more serious diagnoses, exercise, coping skills, stress management, oxygen therapy and how to treat infectious diseases. “We also have fun times together!” Laura says. “We have taken bus trips to museums or to see a show, and we have an anniversary party every year, which is our biggest gathering.”

Through financial contributions Laura has secured, the Better Breathers Club has offered members additional opportunities such as participation in the hospital’s cardio fitness program. The club also has worked to raise funds to send children to Asthma Camp and to provide tuition assistance for a former respiratory patient being trained as an RRT.

If you can get someone to quit smoking, you certainly have done something for them!

Over the years, Laura has seen the growth of the hospital’s pulmonary department and opportunities to support patients. Helping someone quit smoking, though, remains as challenging as it was 16 years ago. “There is more of an awareness that you need to quit smoking, but getting someone to do it? Well, if you can get someone to quit smoking, you certainly have done something for them!” she says. “These habits just lead to more and more problems. It’s just so hard to quit smoking for a lot of people.” The American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® group clinic or online program is the gold standard approach to smoking cession.

Laura relentlessly focuses on reaching out to more patients and finding ways to help them and family members who attend meetings. While she now is involved in church ministries visiting shut-ins and nursing home residents in her retirement, Laura continues to dedicate much time to the program. Before each monthly meeting, she promotes the Better Breathers Club, making and distributing flyers at the hospital and other locations, placing newspaper ads and planning and facilitating the meetings. Married for 45 years to her husband Leroy, Laura is the mother of three children. Her daughter, who works in the hospital’s catheterization lab, is her assistant and helps set up the meetings. “Better Breathers Club will always be special to me!” Laura says.

Looking for a Better Breathers Club for yourself, a friend or family member?
Find one in your area by visiting http://www.lung.org/better-breathers.