Returning to life after an organ transplant

In February 2009, 42-year-old Charles Cannarella arrived at St. John's Rehab after successfully undergoing liver transplant surgery.

"I had just received the gift of life and could finally start feeling healthy again, but I needed a lot of help to get me there."

Charles waited two years for a liver donor before he underwent liver transplant surgery at Toronto General Hospital. He was then referred to the St. John's Rehab organ transplant rehab program.

Launched in 2004, the program is the only dedicated specialized organ transplant rehabilitation program in Canada. Developed in partnership with the Multi-Organ Transplant team at the University Health Network's Toronto General Hospital, the program provides rehabilitation to adults who have undergone heart, lung, kidney, liver and other transplants. Patients follow a continuum of care from inpatient rehab to outpatient services.

At first, Charles was unable to walk or function independently. He struggled with pneumonia and severe fatigue. But, with the support of an interdisciplinary team of rehab professionals including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, physicians, nurses, dietitians and social workers, Charles achieved his goal of walking and regaining strength and independence.

According to a St. John's Rehab study, the organ transplant program is showing impressive success rates. Patients showed up to a 91 per cent improvement in mobility; and at discharge, over 80 per cent of the patients demonstrated improvements in self-care, functional ability, locomotion, communication and cognition.

Charles easily walks the length of the parallel bars the day before he is scheduled to return home. He looks forward to resuming his career as a cook. "My health has improved tremendously. I can walk, I feel more independent, and most importantly, I have a more positive outlook on life. St. John's Rehab truly helped me get my life back."