A warm sunny day in Pittsburgh means something very special to a group of physical therapy patients at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC Mercy — they get to go fishing.
On Wednesday afternoons in the summer, Charlene Subrick, a physical therapist at the hospital, leads an unusual parade of patients, their families, and UPMC Rehab Institute staff to a fishing spot along the shores of the Allegheny River near PNC Park.
Fishing as Therapy
Gone Fishing is an innovative community re-entry program that Charlene created in 2017 to give rehab patients a chance to enjoy a favorite pastime.
With more than 20 years of experience as a physical therapist, Charlene — who started fishing as a young girl — knew that the fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, and mental focus that fishing requires would be good therapy.
Because many patients use wheelchairs or power chairs, her first challenge was getting them to the river.
“We decided to walk from UPMC Mercy to Steel Plaza, then ride the T to the North Shore,” she says.
“The trip is more than a leisure activity. It’s good practice for negotiating uneven sidewalks, ramps, double doors, street crossings, construction sites, elevators, and other obstacles,” explains Charlene. “When they succeed, it boosts their confidence and sense of independence.”
Although fishing as therapy isn’t a new concept, Gone Fishing is the first program of its kind in the region. After the program’s successful first year, Charlene applied for and received a grant from the Beckwith Institute, which funds new ideas from UPMC staff that impact and improve patient care. The grant allowed her to expand the program and purchase much-needed adaptive fishing equipment.
More Than a Day of Fun
A few hours spent fishing is a fun way for the therapists to interact with their patients outside of the hospital. It’s also good therapy for the patients.
“We practice eye and hand coordination by casting, retrieving, and trying to put bait on their hook,” Charlene explains. “The therapists are there to help the patients. Family members can come, too; it gives them a chance to be out with their loved one and see therapy in action.
“Doing this shows the patients that anything is possible,” she says. “It’s kind of blown me away, too. I’ve gained confidence to do other activities with my patients that might seem out of the ordinary. I know now that I can put something together and it will work.”