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Medical Fitness Program Keeps Patients Moving and Motivated

Before lung transplant surgery eight and a half years ago, Margie Pratt of Douglassville found herself in an extremely difficult position.

Suffering from severe lung disease, Margie was desperate for the surgery, as she required constant use of oxygen and had very limited physical ability.

In order to qualify for the surgery, however, she needed to be able to walk 600 feet in six minutes. To put that into perspective, she needed to be able to walk the length of a football field, turn around and walk back to the starting point within six minutes.

While that would not be difficult for most healthy people, it seemed nearly insurmountable to Margie. Until, that is, she met up with Cheryl Tutella, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Clinical Exercise Physiologist.

Cheryl would meet Margie in the parking lot with a wheelchair and escort her into St. Joseph’s medical fitness exercise facility in Exeter Township. Once inside, she would work one-on-one with Margie, who eventually was able to meet her goal and qualify for the transplant.

These days, Margie exercises after the fitness center several days a week, combining a cardio workout with strength training.

“Before my surgery, Cheryl took me into a back room and worked with me,” Margie recalled. “I couldn’t even talk. It was really, really bad. I give all the credit to her and this facility for helping me prepare for the transplant.

The beauty of St. Joseph’s medical exercise program is that participants are closely supervised, and any issues can be detected before they become serious problems. New member are extensively evaluated, and re-evaluated each year. And, Cheryl keeps an eye out for any potential problems on a daily basis.

That’s how she was able to intervene when cardiac rehab patient Joe Kurpiewski of Exeter Township started experiencing a decreasing heart rate in March.

Joe, who had a valve replacement in September 2016, had been to see his cardiologist just a couple of weeks earlier, but had begun not feeling well since then. Cheryl was monitoring his heart rate and was concerned that it was getting lower.

One day he came in feeling poorly, and Cheryl made the decision to contact his cardiologist.

“We picked up on the problem and interfaced with his cardiologist,” she said. “It turned out that he needed a pacemaker, and he got to the hospital and had one installed.”
Joe’s wife, Joanne, who is a nurse, said Cheryl’s intervention was key.

“She knew that something wasn’t right and she wouldn’t ignore it,” Joanne said. “She was our hero, that’s for sure.”

Dr.Fay Weaver, a retired physician who lives in Exeter Township, is recovering from her second knee replacement. While the gym has been key in her rehabilitation, she also enjoys the social aspect of the facility.

“For me, it’s not just the physical benefit,” Fay said. “There’s always laughter here. People genuinely want to know how you’re doing. It’s a nice social atmosphere.

Bob Fritz of Robeson Township underwent cardio rehab following a heart attack two years ago, and since then has had a knee replacement.

Although some days are difficult, he said he always feels better after a workout at the fitness center.

“People who have never exercised might feel embarrassed or afraid when they first get here, but there are always people to get you started and help you,” Bob said. “Sure, some days you don’t feel like coming, but once I get here, I’m always glad that I did.”

Monica Rush, director of rehabilitation services for Penn State Health St. Joseph, said that Cheryl and other staff members work hard to make fitness participants comfortable.

“We want you to have that comfort level and be confident that you can meet your goals,” Monica said. “We know how important exercise it, and we know that nearly everyone can benefit from it. The staff here can help you figure out the best program, and monitor you as you work toward those goals.”


About Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Medical Fitness Program

  • Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Medical Fitness Program facility is located in a state-of-the-art fitness facility at 3970 Perkiomen Ave. in Exeter Township.
  • Both people who are undergoing physical therapy and those who are exercising on their own use the facility.
  • Physical therapists work with patients, while those exercising on their own are supervised by Cheryl Tutella, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Clinical Exercise Physiologist, and other staff.
  • Nearly anyone qualifies for St. Joseph’s Medical Fitness Program.
  • The membership rate is $49 a month, but some insurances, including Silver Sneakers and Silver and Fit, participate.
  • Contact Cheryl Tutella for more information at 610-779-1330 or ctutella@pennstatehealth.psu.edu


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