Pat Kopcho, center, and others participate in a water exercise class at Magnolia Physical Therapy in Huntington Beach on Jan. 27. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / February 9, 2011)

It had been more than 30 years since lupus began eating away at Deborah Filian's body. It stood in the way of every step she took, forcing her to stay in bed for long periods of time. But a saline warm-water pool has changed her life, she said.

Almost a year ago, she started by walking back and forth one day, then lifting her arms above her head another day, reaching for her back another day.

And one by one, Filian got rid of her walker then her cane. Now her doctors are reducing her medication.

"I have changed so much because of this pool," she said.

Shannon Ross offers the aquatic classes Tuesdays through Saturdays at the Magnolia Physical Therapy & Aquatic Rehab Center in Huntington Beach.

Filian, who was one of the first students, has shown remarkable results, Ross said. Filian never thought she would be able to do things like run in place or climb stairs again, she said, but now she does.

The low-impact classes are choreographed to go easy on those with injuries and degenerative diseases while strengthening their bodies to help them manage their pain.

"It's easy on your muscles and joints," Ross said. "It helps with pain management because it's done in a therapeutic temperature."

Ross said she has all sorts of students: some with knee and hip surgeries, others with arthritis and fibromyalgia, and those who just want to establish a healthier lifestyle but can't take on the hardcore gym machines.

One of those patients is Laura Bennett, 46, who blew out her left knee while painting her bathroom on a 3-foot ladder.

After two surgeries, Bennett couldn't walk in the grocery store. She gained 60 pounds.

"It just hurt all the time," she said.

In November, she started the classes with her mother, Barbara Larson, who had hip surgery and has arthritis.

"It just taught me to re-walk again," Bennett said.

Larry Meyer, 78, had knee surgery and thinks he will probably have another one. For him, Ross' classes allow him to manage his pain.

"I can hold my own because this is not going to go away," Meyer said.