When Maureen Bates was offered the chance to take part in a clinical trial before undergoing a major operation she didn’t think twice and she is now urging others to do the same.
Maureen of Skelton was the first patient to complete a pre-op fitness programme as part of a study exploring the potential benefits of high intensity exercise prior to surgery.
“I thought if it helps me it will help other people as well so I was happy to take part,” she said.
Led by consultant anaesthetist Professor Gerard Danjoux from The James Cook University Hospital, the multi-site, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded study focuses on patients who have abdominal aortic aneurysms – a potentially life-threatening swelling on the main abdominal blood vessel.
Patients are asked to complete fitness exercises on an exercise bike at the hospital three times a week for four weeks prior to surgery while their heart rate and blood pressure are carefully monitored by research nurses and cardiac physiotherapists. After their operation they are asked to complete surveys and a diary to monitor their progress.
“I thought it was good fun and I never found it difficult,” said Maureen, who was back to normal within 10 days of her procedure. “I would not be frightened of doing it again. I had faith in the staff and they were all absolutely fantastic. They support you all the way through it.”
But it was only by chance the Maureen’s aneurysm was spotted at all as she had not been experiencing any symptoms. Her doctor noticed the problem in an unrelated x-ray and sent her straight to hospital in an ambulance.
“I was extremely surprised when they told me because I felt fine,” said Maureen. “At first I was wary about doing anything strenuous but then I just carried on as normal – I did not know I had the aneurysm before the x-ray so I would have just carried on as normal anyway.”
Prof Danjoux hopes the study will help change the way people think and encourage them to keep active before they have an operation by exploring potential benefits such as reduced complication rates and faster recovery rates:
“When people are told they have an aneurysm it’s a big shock and a lot of patients refrain from doing anything at all for fear of the aneurysm growing or bursting, but this means they are less fit ahead of their surgery so it’s probably the wrong thing to do.
“That’s the challenge we are facing and we want to change people’s perceptions.
“Evidence shows that the fitter you are before surgery the better you do, but we are looking at whether it is possible to get that fitness up in a short period of time.
“This is something that has not previously been studied in patients with aneurysms due to fears that surges in blood pressure may cause complications but our background research shows the risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits of increasing the patient’s fitness.”
This is a joint project between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, York Teaching Hospitals, York Trials Unit and Teesside University. So far 30 out of 60 patients have been recruited for the £245,000 trial.
Louise Cawthorn, research sister said: “Around half of the patients we have approached have agreed to take part which is fantastic. Every patient receives an individualised exercise programme and we are there to monitor and support them at each session. It’s also an excellent opportunity for patients to discuss any concerns or questions they may have with the research nurses ahead of their surgery.”
Evidence gathered will also help support wider research by the Royal College of Anaesthetists into the care given to patients before, after and during surgery.
Julie Rowbotham, research and development manager added: “There are very few areas in the trust now where we do not have clinical trials and we would always encourage patients to ask their consultants about any trials that may benefit them.”