Treatment & Doctors

‘Sugarbaker Walker’ Is Key Mesothelioma Recovery Device

Written By:
Aug 05, 2015
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
August 5, 2015

A custom-made thoracic walker designed by mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker almost 15 years ago continues to evolve, putting surgical patients back on their feet quicker to accelerate the postoperative recovery process.

Some call it the “Sugarbaker Walker” — a virtual mobile recovery tool.

“It’s a very significant piece of equipment today,” said Dr. Abraham Lebenthal, thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It can kick start the recovery process. Patients just do better with early ambulation.”

The latest version of the Sugarbaker Walker includes most everything a thoracic surgery patient would need: An oxygen tank, chest tube vacuum, IV pole, numerous catheters and room for monitors.

And it’s on wheels, too, with adjustable arm rests. It guides patients into an exercise regimen a day after aggressive surgery.

It’s an all-in-one medical walker.

Building on a Basic Concept

Halliday Medical, Inc., a small, family-run, Boston-based business, manufactures the walkers. Owner Tom Halliday has worked with Sugarbaker and Lebenthal in upgrading the design several times.

“In the beginning, [Sugarbaker] was saving the patients with surgery, and he needed a better, easier way to get them up and walking. That was the original thought process,” Halliday said. “The walkers themselves, and the concept, are pretty basic. What’s unique is adding all these options. It’s revolutionary.”

The idea is that an aggressive ambulatory program will lead to fewer postoperative pulmonary complications. In addition, walking quickens a patient’s recovery.

And the sooner, the better.

The thoracic walkers enable patient mobilization in a safe and easy manner. Instead of needing two nurses and a physical therapist to help a patient maneuver down a hall with so many medical devices, one nurse can easily handle it now.

“Before these, the nurses would literally have to duct tape the oxygen tank to the old walkers. It was like building a soap box derby ride,” Halliday said. “They have really caught on.”

Nationwide Use of Sugarbaker Walker

Sugarbaker used the first walkers for his program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

He left in 2014 to become director of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Lebenthal used them during his years at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

Lebenthal returned to Boston in 2010 and began using the walkers at the VA Boston Healthcare facility, where his surgical patients often include veterans with pleural mesothelioma.

The walkers are also used at:

  • Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
  • Mount Sinai Medical Center
  • Duke University Medical Center
  • Stanford University Medical Center
  • Case Western Reserve Medical Center
  • University of Massachusetts Medical Center
  • Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital

The walkers have received rave reviews.

According to the staff at Fox Chase, the walkers have led to less postoperative respiratory complications, shortened hospital stays and patients returning home with less, if any, need for oxygen assistance.

“It just gets you ahead of the curve, instead of behind it,” Lebenthal said. “It gets the patients back breathing right. And that’s so important.”

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