Rheumatology day program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London makes life a lot easier

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Debby Gartly smiles as she talks about her new grandchild, “I have two children and three grandchildren, one was just born on Friday.” Debby can now look optimistically at the thought of playing with her grandchildren, a few years ago that would not have been the case. Two years ago, Debby was diagnosed with arthritis. It affects her hands, feet and rib cage area.

Debby was referred to the rheumatology department at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London by her family physician, Dr. Rachael Schaffer.

Rheumatologist Dr. Janet Pope recommended that Debby be fitted for orthotics, and that is when she met Stacey Gicante, occupational therapist at St. Joseph’s, who is involved with the rheumatology day program at the hospital. “I often get an opportunity to talk to patients about the day programs while I am fitting them for orthotics, that’s how I put the bug in Debby’s ear.”

The rheumatology day program is a multidisciplinary self-management program that spans two weeks. “The program runs Monday to Friday and is six to seven hours each day including lunch, rest periods and relaxation classes,” says Gicante. “In the program patients see occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers, rheumatologists, pharmacists and receive nutrition counseling.” Gicante adds that the program treats the whole person, in a helpful group setting. “It’s important for patients to relate with others who have the same condition and are dealing with the same issues.”

“The program was wonderful,” says Debby Gartly. “I learned practical ways of dealing with my arthritis. The program helped me to cope with my condition. It changed the way I look at my arthritis and the way I live day-to-day. I learned how to use different tools in the kitchen, I learned how to ask for help and not be embarrassed to do so. I also learned how to get through a busy day and still have energy in the evening.”

One of the best outcomes for Debby was gaining back her extra-curricular activities. “I used to love to garden, and arthritis made that difficult. The program showed me how to adapt and think differently. Now I am beginning to container garden, it’s a lot less strenuous and I still get to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes.” Gicante says the program aims to give patients increased knowledge of their condition. “The course teaches them energy conservation, joint protection, exercises, working with assistive devices, body mechanics, ergonomics, relaxation techniques, stress management and sleep, nutrition and medication strategies. Our goal is to give patients the skills and tools to manage their symptoms so they can continue to do the things that they enjoy and are important to them.”

The program provides participants with a binder of all the program presentations and a list of community resources. Patients also have access to an Internet clinic including sections on frequently asked questions, ask a professional, a relapse prevention workshop, tips and hints and an open discussion forum.

Debby was thrilled by the outcome of the program. “When I first started they asked me what I wanted to improve on. A big problem for me was sleep. Before the program I would sleep for three hours in bed and I would be in so much pain that I would try to sleep the rest of the night in a recliner. The program gave me sleeping techniques and tips; one tip was to get a feather mattress pad, which took pressure off certain points in my body. In using their suggestions I can now sleep through the night.”

Debby remains active and stays on top of her care. She attends water therapy exercise classes specifically for people with arthritis. She does massage therapy once a month and has a yearly check up with Dr. Pope. If she experiences any flare-ups, she visits her family physician. Debby is very grateful for the treatment she has received, “I am so blessed to have my doctors; their care is second to none.”

Debby also feels fortunate to have the help of her family. “My family was so supportive, physically and emotionally. In the beginning I just wanted to soldier on, and not admit I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. Without their help I surely would have been overwhelmed.”

The program also includes a refresher course, which Debby is looking forward to. “I think it’s important to be as educated as I can be, to always learn more. Life changes, my arthritis changes over time, and new treatments become available. I am so thankful I did the day program – it made all the difference. It made my life whole life a lot easier.”