A Love and Life of Pulmonary Rehab: A Conversation with Gerene Bauldoff, Winner of the L. Kent Smith Award of Excellence
Before Gerene Bauldoff even started working with pulmonary rehabilitation, she knew how deeply lung problems could affect someone’s life.
Her family had a long history of asthma, including her uncle who was on transtracheal oxygen for occupational lung disease and her mother who lived with chronic bronchitis for 40 years. Despite never having a cigarette, people she loved were afflicted by these pulmonary diseases. And then, after she became a home care nurse, she saw firsthand how these types of issues were being ignored.
“Those patients, to me, felt like they were the most commonly ignored and dismissed,” she said. “Their symptomology was much more central to their experience and quality of life than other peoples. If you can’t catch your breath, you can’t do anything. I knew it was so critical to try and figure out something to help get their symptoms under control and take control of their lives.”
Bauldoff, PhD, RN, MAACVPR, is the recipient of the 2019 L. Kent Smith Award of Excellence, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the cardio and/or pulmonary rehabilitation fields. Currently she teaches at Ohio State University College of Nursing, focusing on the development and testing of home-based pulmonary rehabilitation interventions to improve and maintain functional performance, including activities of daily living and health-related quality of life in people with chronic lung disease and lung transplant patients.
She’s also been an integral part of the AACVPR community, being honored as an AACVPR master in 2017.
“I’m very humbled to be receiving this award,” she said. “I’m very, very honored.”
Bauldoff has had a focus in pulmonary rehab for the past 25 years of her career. Working as a nurse, she was on the frontlines working with people and their pulmonary issues. Back when she first came into the field, she was surprised at how little research had been done on pulmonary issues—specifically the benefits of rehabilitation.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when researchers and clinicians started to seriously look at pulmonary rehabilitation as a point of study. One of the most notable was the National Emphysema Treatment Trial, or NETT, which launched in 1996. Put together by the National Institute of Health, Bauldoff was hired on to the project.
“I always say that was one of the best trials because it was a nationwide trial, well-powered with lots of variability,” she said. “And at the same time patients were screened very carefully. I’ve argued that the NETT study, even at this point, still is some of the best research basis for the impact of pulmonary rehab.”
As she grew in her career, she started working in lung transplant. It opened her eyes in a whole new way. All of her patients were experiencing an end-stage diseases. As Bauldoff worked with patients before and after their transplants, her belief that home-care rehabilitation was the best option for this patient population was reaffirmed.
“I’ve always valued using the home as a place of treatment and therapy for the patient because it’s where the patient is most comfortable,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to get a patient to make lifestyle changes in their own environment. Cardiac rehab is done after an event, usually a heart attack. Pulmonary rehab—we never cure the disease. We’re disease management. Our patients will always be chronically ill, so a home-based program is going to be more amenable to our patients.”
Beyond the strides she’s made in the field, Bauldoff said she is proud of the friendships she’d made along the way. She’s been a member of AACVPR since 1992 and said the organization has helped her both personally and professionally.
“AACVPR is the only organization where I feel like I belong,” she said. “I go to the Annual Meeting tap dancing my way in because I get to see everyone. Every talk is of interest, and that doesn’t happen at most meetings. I’ve known these people forever—they’re all my friends—and seeing them makes me feel so wonderful.”
She said looking forward, there is still a long way to go. And while she won’t stop learning, educating and advocating anytime soon, she’s proud of the work she’s been able to accomplish in the last 25 years and all of those people who stood by her on her journey.
“This award is not mine alone,” she said. “This award is for every patient, every family member, every peer staff person and every peer member of AACVPR that I’ve encountered in my career,” she said. “I consider it an absolutely blessing that our lives crossed paths.”