Alberta non-profit aims to help brain tumour patients through water rehabilitation

Click to play video: 'Pool Brats aims to help people with brain tumours regain mobility'
Pool Brats aims to help people with brain tumours regain mobility
A new non-profit in Edmonton is hoping water rehab will help strengthen people with physical impairments because of brain tumours. As Sarah Ryan explains, the program is ready to go, but more participants are needed to dip their toes in the water – Oct 10, 2023

Jim Power walked for the first time in four years Tuesday, with the assistance of two physiotherapists in the ACT Centre pool in Edmonton.

“It gives you a chance to feel normal,” he said.

In 2014, Jim was diagnosed with a brain tumour — glioblastoma — the same cancer Gord Downie and Ben Stelter had.

“He, at that point, was given just over a year to live,” explained his daughter, Kathryn Caldwell.

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Nine years later, the 70-year-old is defying the odds and hoping to ditch his wheelchair, if only temporarily. He has lofty ambitions.

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“I want to get up and get golfing again.”

Before the pandemic, he’d been successfully using water rehab to increase his strength and mobility, allowing him to move around in the pool.

Jim’s wife Ryta recalls him increasing his stamina on parallel bars in the pool at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

“One lap became two, became 10, then 50 became 60, and all of a sudden he was walking,” she laughed.

“That then translated to we could get him standing on land and golfing again. I mean, he used a walker to do it, but he was out there on the course swinging a club and living life as close to normal as what he was before,” Caldwell said.

But during the pandemic, that all came to an end. Since then, Jim’s family hasn’t been able to find him an accessible pool with rehab classes, so they took matters into their own hands.

Jim Power ditched his wheelchair in the pool Tuesday and took his first steps in four years. Sarah Ryan / Global News

Pool Brats is a new non-profit group launched by Jim’s daughters, along with health-care providers, to help adults with brain tumours gain some independence.

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“It would be nice to get a big bunch of people in because there’s so many people in this unfortunate position that have the potential to get back to somewhat of a normal life,” Jim said.

The Pool Brats rehab sessions are being held at the accessible ACT Centre in Rundle Park starting Sunday, Oct. 15, and they just need more people to dip their toes into the pool.

“It’s one of those situations that we hope if we build it, they will come,” explained physiotherapist and Pool Brats director Chrystal MacLellan.

Interested adults with brain tumours can register here.

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“We’ve partnered with the University of Alberta on this, as well as health care professionals in the community, as well as physios, recreation therapists, everyone has stepped up to be able to volunteer and that’s who you’re going to be with in the pool,” Caldwell said.

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So why do rehab in a pool instead of a gym?

“Water properties like buoyancy, which pushes us up, makes it easier for us to do things like stand and walk. And we can do that with much less risk of falling and injuring ourselves than we would on land,” MacLellan said.

“Besides some things being easier, moving through water is actually harder. So it’s a very good way to strengthen our bodies.”

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Groundbreaking brain cancer research at the University of Saskatchewan provides hope

Family is also encouraged to attend for a different kind of healing.

“We want to create not just the rehab community, but also the sense of community for caregivers as well. So we hope that our caregivers will come not to support us in the pool, but to support each other,” MacLellan said.

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Caldwell and her sister wanted to make sure the program was affordable. It costs $200 for the fall session, which includes 10 two-hour classes October through December.

“All of the fees that go into this program, all of it is just cost recovery. It’s for insurance and pool rental.”

They have space for 30 people to join in.

Pool Brats is also looking for sponsors to help keep costs low.

As for Jim? He’s proud of his daughters for being such strong advocates for people with brain tumours, and can’t wait to chase down his goals in the pool.

“It lets you be somewhat independent,” he explained.

“It gives me hope.”

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