Homework puts 90-year-old back on his bike

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Even at the age of 90, Rex Fettell likes to keep moving – be it cycling with friends, or staying busy around the house.

This ‘can do’ attitude made him the perfect patient for an increasingly-popular treatment program in the COVID era, and helped him overcome the pain threatening to restrict his mobility.

After electing to have knee replacement surgery at Epworth Eastern hospital in Melbourne, Mr Fettell decided to do his rehabilitation at home.

Working with Epworth HealthCare physiotherapist Megan Kiteley, he set up a mini-gym in the backyard of his house in the suburb of Burwood.

“I’ve got an exercise bike, a handrail and some step-up boxes,” Mr Fettell said.

“I thought, ‘I have to work on this; I am not going to sit in front of the television. I am going to get going on this and do as much as I can’.”

Ms Kitely said he was “one of the most motivated patients I have ever worked with” in her role with Epworth’s Rehab in the Home program.

“He’s incredible – he taught me to never put limits on what I think someone could achieve,” she said.

“Rex is well suited to rehabilitating at home, as he is highly committed to his exercises. It was exciting to progress to the point when we were able to practice getting on and off an exercise bike, as this was his goal.”

Mr Fettel said he had “enjoyed enormously” the weekly rehab sessions, and was reaping the benefits of his exercises.

“I can go and do things inside and outside, like wash the car and work up to mowing the lawn.”

He has also resumed his twice-weekly ‘Mates On Bikes’ rides with the local group he and his wife Bev have been part of for the past six years.

After swapping his upright bike for a e-recumbent model based on his physio’s advice, Mr Fettell is back riding up to 30 kilometres each time before stopping at a shopping centre to catch up with his cycling friends.

“When we get there, we fix up the world’s problems over a coffee,” he joked. 

Mr Fettell is not alone in choosing to recover away outside of hospital – the number of Rehab in the Home sessions undertaken by hip and knee replacement and spinal surgery patients at Epworth has doubled since COVID-19 arrived in Australia in 2020.

“Throughout the pandemic, people adapted to working from home, remote learning from home, and doing rehab in the home,” said Jeremy Buckmaster, the Victorian private healthcare group’s Community Rehabilitation Manager.

“For a lot of patients, the days of needing to spend seven nights in hospital, being cared for by a nurse, while they are doing physiotherapy during the day are gone.”

The home program involves an average of eight sessions spread across six to eight weeks.

“There’s research to show the outcomes are the same, but for some people they do better in the home because they are with their family and back in their own environment,” Mr Buckmaster said.

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