Mobilizing Hope in the ICU

Imagine spending months in intensive care, with limited ability to move in and out of bed? For Lawrence Murphy, this was a reality.

“It was like my esophagus busted open,” Lawrence explained. “After that I found myself in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) here at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital for about three and a half months.”

Lawrence Murphy

Lawrence Murphy

Lawrence was diagnosed with a perforated esophagus. An esophageal perforation is a hole in the esophagus, a serious condition that can cause contents travelling through the tube to the stomach to pass into the surrounding area in the chest. The condition is often treated with surgery to repair the hole.

According to Judy Kay, clinical practice leader of physiotherapy for inpatients at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, evidence and practice suggests that early mobilization in intensive care has a large impact on patients, with reduced length of stay and early recovery of function and well-being.

“We have been practicing early mobilization for years,” explains Judy. “Mobilization can even begin when patients are unconscious. Repositioning to recline sitting in bed and simulating weight bearing through their feet introduces positive effects that see patients move out of ICU sooner, decrease delirium and decrease the time of their overall hospital stay.”

Because of the nature and area of his condition, Lawrence could not easily be moved in a manual sling lift.

“Sling lifts can pose difficulty for both patients and staff,” said Judy. “Additionally, for many patients this means of movement is never appropriate, especially for those who have a procedure involving the chest or abdominal when there are a number of chest tubes and lines.”

Luckily, she found another solution for patients like Lawrence!

“I looked up and saw Judy coming down the hall with this large blue thing,” said Lawrence.

Stretcher chair

Stretcher chair

“She said: ‘I got something new for you to try’. She brought it in and next thing she hauled it out like a stretcher and pushed it level with my bed. Two nurses grabbed the sheets underneath me and moved me over onto the stretcher in seconds! From that, she pressed a button and up she came just like a chair – it was the same thing as being sat in your la-z-boy at home!”

This large blue item is a next generation stretcher chair that the ICU was able to purchase thanks to funding from the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary!

Members of the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary at a bake sale during December 2015

Members of the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary at a bake sale during December 2015

“We recognized the need for some sort of equipment that would further build our capacity for early mobilization in the ICU,” said Judy. “So we started researching and looking for a piece of equipment that could meet a number of needs and found this outstanding stretcher chair.”

The $15,000 stretcher chair has a number of standout features, including:

  • Staff are able to move patients into the chair quickly and easily as it lines up with the bed;
  • It can be used by a variety of patients with a range of body types and illnesses, patients with many chest tubes and lines, and those who are intubated or who are anxious and fearful of the lifts.
  • It is fitted with a comfortable memory foam support that doesn’t require extra pillows or cushions for weight bearing relief;
  • It contains a seat belt to ensure patient safety;
  • It can quickly transform into a flat stretcher, which is crucial with ICU patients as they could experience low blood pressure or an emergency; and,
  • It contains remote control technology that allows health-care professionals and patients to maneuver the stretcher chair into various positions, improving both movement and cognitive function for patients.
(l-r) Colin Saunders, registered nurse at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital ICU and Judy Kay with the stretcher chair.

(l-r) Colin Saunders, registered nurse at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital ICU and Judy Kay with the stretcher chair.

“This piece of equipment has exceeded our expectations! It has been used by all types of patients with different diagnoses and body types and has improved their physical, mental and cognitive health. It also literally takes a few minutes to move a patient into the stretcher chair, which has had a huge impact on nurses in the unit as it is more efficient and easy to use! It’s just beneficial to everyone,” said Judy.

For Lawrence, the stretcher chair made a huge difference in his recovery. After just two weeks of using the chair, Lawrence was moved out of the ICU.

“The chair just made such a difference to me, and to all the patients and staff,” he said. “Thanks to the remote, I could move into different positions which allowed me to stay in the chair longer each time – sometimes for hours. There was also lots of room on the sides so you could move around, and when you are able to move, it makes you feel a lot better. It was just great.”

Lawrence and staff in the ICU are very thankful to the Auxiliary for donating the funds needed for the chair to the Health Care Foundation.

“I really appreciate the help the auxiliary and the Health Care Foundation have provided.” Lawrence said with a smile.

About the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary

The St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary has been active in the hospital since September 1967 as both dedicated fundraisers and volunteers. Today, the majority of their fundraising is done through the operation of the St. Clare’s gift shop, which is staffed with volunteers. They also actively volunteer within St. Clare’s and hold other fundraising initiatives such a draws and bake sales all in support of equipment and comfort items for the hospital .

The auxiliary is always looking to grow its community. If you would like to get involved, please contact Michele Hunt at 709.777.5539 or

Health Care Foundation LogoFor more information about the Health Care Foundation, please visit ■


This story was written by Jackie O’Brien, senior manager of communications and stewardship at the Health Care Foundation. 

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