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New program helps bone marrow transplants a step at a time

Health

MURRAY, Utah (Intermountain Healthcare) – When Sabina Suggs, RN, was a patient in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Intermountain LDS Hospital 22 years ago, she wasn’t allowed to leave her room – which made it very hard to exercise. Her lack of exercise slowed her recovery and impacted her ability to breathe.

Now, Suggs is a registered nurse on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at LDS Hospital and understands the need to help her patients get out of their rooms and be more active. That’s why she started the ‘Motivated to Move’ program, which gives patients fun incentives to get up and move.

Patients who sign up for the ‘Motivated to Move’ program are invited to keep track of how far they walk each day around the unit and also have a chance to win medals once they take enough steps to complete an actual 5k, 10k, half marathon, or full marathon. 

Gregg Wright, 67, from Orem, Utah was diagnosed in September 2019 with Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) an often unrecognized, under-diagnosed rare bone marrow disorder, where the body no longer makes enough healthy, normal blood cells in the bone marrow. On January 3, 2020 his sister gave him the gift of life, a bone marrow transplant.  During treatment doctors told Wright he needed to keep moving. He started walking but got tired after 20 minutes. When he heard about the Motivated to Move program, he says it provided the motivation he needed to just keep walking. This week, he completed his goal of walking a half-marathon.

The unit’s staff all gather to cheer and play music as each patient crosses the finish line and receives a medal. Medals and supplies have been donated from the Salt Lake Marathon, the Big Cottonwood Canyon half and full marathon, Salt Lake Running Company, and Moonjoggers.com. 

The program started last August, and participation numbers have doubled each month since then. Some patients have even continued to participate as outpatients after they leave the unit. So far, an average of about 10 patients per month have participated, and five patients have now completed walking a full marathon – 26.2 miles.

“It’s been really exciting to see this motivate patients and staff,” Suggs said. “Patients who used to stay in their rooms are out walking now. Having milestones like this shows patients they’re making progress. It’s a fun way to celebrate the small steps.”

Nancy Miklautsch from Hurricane, Utah, was skeptical about ‘Motivated to Move’ when she first heard about it, but she decided to give it a try. She’s now a big fan.

Miklautsch is receiving treatment for leukemia at LDS Hospital and said the ‘Motivated to Move’ program has given her the extra push she needed to get out of her room and move around. She’s completed a 5k, a 10k, two half marathons, and a full marathon.

“To be stuck in these four walls is tough,” Miklautsch said. “Getting out and moving is definitely a spirit-lifter. I feel stronger because of it. My breathing is much stronger and I have more energy. I’ve even started carrying hand weights as I walk.”

“I’m positive that we’ve walked more because of this program because we had a goal we were working toward,” said Miklautsch, husband, Bruce. “I’m convinced this level of exercise is going to make a difference in her outcome.”

The Miklautschs say that in addition to encouraging exercise, the program has helped them get out and form relationships with other patients in the unit.

“When you start seeing other people and talking to other patients, you can see you’re not in this alone,” Miklautsch said. “You form a community and help each other share struggles. That helps you not feel so alone.”

“We’ve turned into big cheerleaders for other people as we’re out walking together,” Bruce added.

“When I go into rooms to see how patients are doing, sometimes our whole visit is spent with them showing me their current medals and telling me how much further they need to walk to receive their next medal,” said Kristen Gooch, a nurse practitioner on the LDS Hospital BMT unit. “This program has really helped patients stay busy and work toward a goal.”

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