UPMC Mercy’s “Gone Fishing” program makes the rehabilitation process more fun

A stroke or spinal cord injury is a life-changing event that affects patients not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally and socially. For some, the future may seem uncertain and scary. For this reason, the staff at UPMC’s Rehabilitation Institute helps patients regain not only physical function, but also the confidence needed to engage with the wider world and participate in recreational activities.

UPMC Mercy’s Gone Fishing Program began in 2018 after physical therapist Charlene Subrick took a fishing class and realized it was the perfect accessible activity for wheelchair users. Every Wednesday during the summer, Charlene and her colleagues lead three new wheelchair users on an epic journey across the city—navigating sidewalks, crosswalks, construction crews, and public transit—to Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Patients are encouraged to invite family members to participate in this experience while fishing for walleye, trout, carp, bass and other species in the shallow waters of the Allegheny River. The fresh air, scenic view of downtown, and a daytime Pirates game nearby provide a beautiful backdrop for teaching community reentry techniques to patients and their families. Often, this is the first time patients leave the hospital after an injury or stroke.

For many UPMC Mercy rehabilitation patients, a fishing trip to the North Shore marks their first time leaving the hospital after a stroke or injury.

“Just walking around the hospital on flat surfaces doesn’t prepare them for when they go home,” Soberick said.

A $10,000 grant from the Beckwith Institute allowed Suprick to purchase adaptive equipment, to make the activity accessible to patients with a wide range of disabilities. One long-time patient, Kimberly Heim, is unable to form a fist and uses a self-casting reel purchased through the program. Heim has worked with Subrick since 1991, and often attends fishing trips to make friends and show new wheelchair users that they, too, can go on to live full lives.

“I invite people to come down and go fishing. If they see I can do it, they can do it,” Heim said. “I’m considered a role model.”

So far, the program has seen about 60 patients fishing, and is a key part of UPMC’s comprehensive approach to physical rehabilitation. The Rehabilitation Institute also employs a full-time recreational therapist who is currently developing a program to help patients improve functional movement while socializing and having fun.

“Enjoying the rehab process is really important,” Soberick said. “You’re stuck in a hospital bed, and I want to get people out and show them that you can still have fun.”

Journalists interested in learning more can contact mediarelations@upmc.edu.

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