People waiting for major surgery can do simple things to get prepared and for recovery afterwards. Our expert staff in hospital say it’s proven that better general fitness can help people get out of hospital sooner, recover more quickly, and experience fewer post-op complications.

Barnsley Hospital patient Sandra Littlewood is a shining example of what patient-driven ‘prehabilitation’ and a positive attitude can do. Sandra, 56, was diagnosed with bowel cancer and had major surgery in January this year. The procedure was a hemicolectomy to remove part of her colon and Sandra ended up being nine hours in surgery and spent a week in hospital.

A mum and grandma to two grandsons, Sandra admitted herself that she did not do well in her pre-op tests. She was overweight and at just over five ft tall, her BMI was 44. On top of that, she was on various medications for other chronic medical problems including rheumatoid arthritis.

Exercise will get easier

Dr Tim Wenham, Barnsley Hospital consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine, said: “At the pre-op tests, Sandra and I talked about her picking up a cheap exercise bike and getting on it for 20 minutes a day. After her hemicolectomy (removal of part of the large intestine) which was difficult and prolonged, she recognised me as the person who ran her pre-op exercise test and immediately informed me that she’d taken my advice.

“She had indeed picked up an exercise bike and was doing 20 minutes a day on it since mid- December. She initially found it hard but it got easier and it made her feel really good and improved her breathing. Her aerobic capacity had been poor and this was in a bid to improve her pre-op fitness and help reduce the chance of significant post-op complications.

“I think it’s the first time someone seems to have properly listened to my advice! Sandra was really enthusiastic about it. She wanted to try and help convince others to do the same.”

‘Immense’ benefits from getting fitter

Sandra, who lives in Monk Bretton, has now lost a stone in weight and says the benefits of her exercise have been immense. She said: “I just got a cheap bike and started out doing five minutes on it in my bedroom, then built up to ten, then 20 minutes a day. I just put my ear pods in and listen to a podcast and now I am not out of breath at all. It’s not easy but the hospital staff gave me the incentive and made me realise I could do something to help myself. They told me I needed to get my heart and lungs working together and now they do! I’d like to say a big thank you to the hospital team.”

Manish Chowdhary, the consultant colorectal surgeon who performed Sandra’s operation, said: “I fully support the role of prehabilitation. There is a big drive worldwide on this and it definitely helps and is backed by lots of good quality evidence. Sandra is a lovely patient and has done so well post-operatively.”

Photo: Dr Wei Yang Low, Barnsley Hospital Consultant Anaesthetist, on a stationary bike at the hospital, demonstrating the preoperative cardiopulmonary exercise test for patients due to have major bowel surgery.