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In surviving health battles, Deby Springer is proof of the value of exercise

Deby Springer

Deby Springer has survived two battles with cancer and, in the process, discovered the secret to optimal health: regular exercise.

Deby, who also suffers from a chronic lung disease, is a believer in the exercise programs at the Via Christi Wellness Center in Wichita. She works out at the center three times a week — once under the guidance of board-certified exercise physiologist Daniel Fowler and twice through pulmonary rehabilitation classes.

“It’s been a godsend,” says Deby, 61, of Andale, Kansas. “I feel remarkably better. I feel stronger. I have more stamina and my breathing is better.”

Now, Deby has the energy and enthusiasm to fully enjoy trips with her husband, Mark Springer, MD, a pediatrician with Ascension Medical Group, to pursue his hobby of restoring and riding railroad motorcars — especially on mountain railroads where the high altitude and thinner air are a concern.

‘Like a new person’

Fowler says Deby’s progress has been an inspiration to other patients.

“Her attitude and enthusiasm are contagious,” he says. “If you ran into her in a gym, you’d never imagine she had cancer or lung disease.”

Deby’s health struggles began when she was diagnosed with breast cancer over Christmas in 2007 and underwent a mastectomy. Thankfully, the cancer was detected early and was considered low-risk. Though her cancer was removed, she faced another health challenge.

She suffered from interstitial lung disease as a complication of acid reflux. “I was inhaling small amounts of stomach acid and that damaged my lungs.”

As part of managing her chronic lung condition, a CT scan in 2013 revealed a spot in her left lung. When a repeat test showed the spot was growing, she underwent surgeries in October 2014 to biopsy and remove a dime-sized tumor with half of her left lung. Follow-up testing showed her lymph nodes were cancer-free and she didn’t need additional treatment for the lung cancer.

But she developed a persistent cough after the surgery and felt weak and run-down. “I sat around for four or five months just coughing,” she says. “I was really a lot more short of breath than I had been and I just didn’t feel well.”

That’s when she discovered the Via Christi Pulmonary Rehabilitation program and the Wellness Center, located in the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center on the campus of Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.

She began her journey to wellness through exercise in the rehab program’s group classes, then seized the opportunity to accelerate her recovery and training by working with Fowler at the Wellness Center.

“Daniel has training in how to work with people with chronic diseases,” Deby says. “He’s able to push you gently. I’ve worked up to about 40 minutes of cardio. He also has me do free weights, the weight machines, and strengthening exercises that are challenging. It really has helped me feel like a new person.”