Mobile Cancer Rehab Program Helps Patients Get Stronger

A specialized approach provides intensive physical and occupational therapy after chemotherapy, right in a patient’s hospital room. Here's how the program gave one man hope.  

1:00 PM

Author | Bryon Quertermous

The odds were stacked against Michael Champion.

The 65-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a disease that requires aggressive chemotherapy designed with much younger patients in mind.

LISTEN UP: Add the new Michigan Medicine News Break to your Alexa-enabled device, or subscribe to our daily audio updates on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Thanks to a new cancer rehabilitation program at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, Champion was able to recover from the debilitating effects of treatment and gain enough strength to resume life at home with his family.

The Mobile Comprehensive Oncology Rehabilitation Evaluation program, or MCORE, was created by Michigan Medicine's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to provide a more aggressive physical rehabilitation for cancer patients.

The goal: to decrease the length of a patient's stay in the hospital.

MCORE has been vital for Champion, whose aggressive chemotherapy sapped his energy, strength and mobility.

"It was a blessing in a sense that he was healthy, so they said we can really slam this, but then as you get more and more chemo, we were not prepared," says Champion's wife, Pat.

It's a common sentiment that inspired Sean Smith, M.D., Champion's rehabilitation medicine physician, to launch the program.

"People going through chemo or just having finished a cycle are some of the most fatigued people we get up here," Smith says.

Energy crisis

The path that led Champion from working out at his local gym in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and staying active with his family to celebrating the small victories of sitting upright and walking on his own began in December 2017.

The retiree noticed a drop in energy levels and blood blisters inside his mouth.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

His doctors referred him to the Rogel Cancer Center, where a diagnosis was made. Champion began chemotherapy treatments at a hospital near home as well as at Rogel.

But his health began to decline from side effects. By June 2018, he was so weak his family knew additional help was needed.

"We could see the cumulative effect of all of this," Pat Champion says. "I kept saying he shouldn't be at home. It's not safe."

Soon after, Michael Champion was moved to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at the end of the month to begin his journey back to full strength.

Specialized therapy

Two weeks into his hospital stay, Champion was in a better position to start regaining his strength. 

Champion says he was foggy for most of these discussions but remembers Michigan Medicine physical therapist Sara Houlihan talking about a new program that might be a good fit. The program was MCORE.

"They said it's a three-hour daily commitment," Champion says. "And going from here to a chair was a commitment to me, so it was foreign to me but finally it worked out."

MCORE therapists devote more time to patients and create individualized plans to help with the intensity of the program, Houlihan says. And they can hold sessions in a patient's hospital room if recipients are too weak to travel to the rehab area.

In addition to more intense and individualized therapy, another benefit to patients in the MCORE program is being included in MCORE rounds.

A recipient's entire health-care team  including a rehabilitation medicine physician (or physiatrist) who specializes in cancer rehabilitation  evaluates patient progress and adjusts the plan to maintain the required intensity without going beyond what a patient can tolerate.

Houlihan says programs like MCORE are common at premier medical facilities in stroke, concussion and burn programs but are still rare in cancer programs.

"People have this misconception that cancer patients can't get better, that they can't tolerate this," she says, "but cancer is an area that works really well for this."

As Champion's discharge was drawing near, his family resisted the notion of moving him to a subacute rehabilitation facility where he likely wouldn't get the same intensity and individualized level of care.

Because of the progress he had done with MCORE, Smith was able to recommend that he transition into Michigan Medicine's Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit to continue progressing towards his goals.

After a two-week stay on the rehab unit, Champion was able to be discharged home.

Moving forward

Though it's unclear if and when his cancer journey will be behind him, Champion is staying positive.

SEE ALSO: How Physiatrists Help Cancer Patients During Recovery

"I wish it was five years down the road," he says, "but in the back of your head, you know nothing's 100 percent."

Pat Champion has been taking photos of her husband since his first admission to the hospital and sending them to Houlihan to chronicle their journey. The photos show the progression of a man weakened and gaunt from chemotherapy and pneumonia to a man with robust expressions and even facial hair.

In one photo, Champion sits in a wheelchair at the end of a pier looking out at Lake Michigan. Another image shows Champion walking on his own.

Champion and his family praise the value of MCORE and the results it produced. They want to be sure other patients know about it.

"The goal is on the front end to have people participate and receive physical therapy before discharge," Champion says. "In the long run, it'll save money and certainly help people."

More Articles About: Cancer Care Rogel Cancer Center Cancer Rehabilitation Chemotherapy Physical Therapy Hospitals & Centers
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories sketched out bacteria in a dish yellow and blue colors of U-M
Health Lab
This gross mixture has big benefits for the study of bacteria
Michigan Medicine researchers have found that growing bacteria on agar mixed with organs is an efficient and effective way to study infectious pathogens.
three pharmacists smiling
Health Lab
An innovative pharmacy service for pain management
An innovative service at Michigan Medicine offers pain management support for patients and care teams
Pink head brain maze
Health Lab
The malfunction of an undamaged brain
People with these two functional neurologic disorders often go misdiagnosed
IV drip
Health Lab
Monitoring program flags cancer patients at risk of highly toxic chemotherapy side effects
Researchers from the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center have developed a monitoring system using a research genetics program to trigger alerts about cancer patients suspected to have the DPYD gene variant.
wheelchair walker image
Health Lab
Spread of drug resistant bacteria linked to patient hand contamination and antibiotic use within nursing homes
A Michigan Medicine research team seeks to identify characteristics of patients within nursing homes, as well as the nursing home environment itself, that are associated with contamination by vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
graphic drawing of colonoscopy scan with large intestine vials patient on bed doctor
Health Lab
Investment in free follow up colonoscopies will pay off
Free colonoscopies for people whose at-home stool tests (such as Cologuard and FIT) turn up signs of potential cancer are now covered by insurance, and a study shows this will save money.