Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
Bookmark and Share

Expanding service

Faculty clinic takes on renal transplant and cancer patients
Story Photo

Clinic Director Elizabeth Frierson treats a patient at the DPT program’s faculty practice. The clinic has begun to treat more renal transplant and cancer patients.

When transplant surgeon Nicole Turgeon needed physical therapy for problems she was having with her shoulder, she went to Emory Physical Therapy and Wellness, the DPT program’s faculty practice. While there she got into a conversation with the clinic’s director, Elizabeth Frierson, DPT, OCS, CLT, and the two ended up discussing how therapy could benefit Turgeon’s renal transplant patients.

"Before that, I would get a physical therapy consult for a patient who needed additional assistance before being released from the hospital, but after talking to Elizabeth, I realized that perhaps some of my patients could benefit from a PT evaluation before and after transplant," says Turgeon. "I started sending patients to physical therapy after their transplants, and they were improving rapidly with treatment. Now it is part of my post-transplant care checklist – would the patient benefit from PT after the transplant? Many of the other renal surgeons are referring as well, and liver transplant surgeons have started sending patients to the clinic."

Frierson is also working with Turgeon to come up with a frailty index based on a functional test and a medical history. "They’ve gotten pretty good with people surviving the surgery, but they want them to do more than sit on the couch with their working kidney – they want them to thrive," says Frierson. "So we are doing a pilot study now where we perform some functional tests before the patient gets surgery and then track how they function afterward. That might be able to help them predict who will do well with the surgery and who won’t."

Treating renal transplant patients is something of a natural extension for the clinic, which has been seeing cancer patients for a year and a half. Frierson, who is also a certified lymphedema therapist, began by working with breast cancer survivors. "After a mastectomy, you can’t start radiation until you can raise your arm over your head," says Frierson. "Physical therapy helps them regain the ability to lift their arm into that position, so they can start treatment sooner."

Today about a third of Frierson’s patients are cancer survivors. Clinic specialists can help patients deal with the myriad impairments that result from cancer treatment – range of motion, dizziness, balance. "I would love for there to be an automatic PT referral after radiation or chemo," says Frierson. "A lot of times, six months after radiation the tissues get tight and contracted, and patients start developing limited range of motion. They could avoid that if they start therapy after their treatments. A lot of people would benefit from physical therapy after cancer treatments."

Emory Physical Therapy and Wellness was established in 2006 as part of The Emory Clinic by Division of Physical Therapy faculty members and clinicians.

Email the editor