McGill program helps patients prep for surgery and get back on their feet faster

The goal of the program is to make the patient stronger before they're operated on, through exercise, diet and teaching them ways to to de-stress and relax.

The goal of the Peri Operative Program is to make the patient stronger before an operation

Dr. Francesco Carli, left, is the director of McGill's peri operative program, and worked with David Desmond to help him prepare for surgery. (CBC)

Dr. Francesco Carli, a professor of anesthesiology at McGill, says that the majority of patients who show up for surgery aren't truly ready.

That's where the Peri Operative Program comes in, as a way to help patients prepare both mentally and physically.

Carli, who is the director of the program, told CBC's All in a Weekend that the goal of the program is to make the patient stronger before they're operated on, through exercise, nutrition and teaching them ways to de-stress.

That, he says, helps reduce risk factors when they go into surgery, and makes their recovery faster.

"About 25 to 30 per cent of our patients are very anxious, especially cancer patients. And we have about 15 per cent [of those patients] who develop depression as well," he said.

"If you prepare them days before surgery, which is a major stress to their body, to their mind, definitely the idea is to accelerate recovery."

Patients in the program work with doctors, nurses and psychologists as well as other health professionals and volunteers.

The POP team has conducted studies and found that 80 per cent of patients return to pre-operative physical fitness after eight weeks. For those who haven't been through the program, it was 30 per cent. 

The program is the only one of its kind in Canada, Carli said.

"I think it's a novel concept," he explained, "So it will take time, but we know it works." 

A patient's perspective

David Desmond knows the program well. He was referred to it after being diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer that metastasized to his liver.

By the time he met with the team, he had been through 10 cycles of chemotherapy and was so weak he could barely lift a 7.5-lb weight ten times.

"It's just incredible that they would rebuild you so that you're able to go through the surgery and your drop off after would be a lot less," said Desmond.

Desmond still has two more surgeries to come in the next year, but says he's feeling better mentally and physically.  

"It was such a wonderful stress relief," he said.

The program is based out of the Montreal General Hospital, but is not limited to patients of that hospital.

The program has garnered interest from medical groups from all over the world that want to learn more about the resources involved and the success rate.

But it is expensive to run, and with the amount of resources and funding it takes to maintain the program, not many hospitals can afford to take it on as a regular practice. POP survives solely on donations.

Most of the donation money goes toward paying the handful of staff as well administrative costs and exercise equipment.


Sonali Karnick is the host of All in a Weekend. Listen to the show on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m. across Quebec.