The Maple Tree Cancer Alliance

SHARON – A nonprofit business that provides exercise programs for cancer patients is coming to the Buhl Community Recreation Center.

Dr. Karen Wonders, founder of The Maple Tree Cancer Alliance, which is based in Dayton, Ohio, said Sharon will be the first of more planned sites in Pennsylvania. Wonders, however, is not a newcomer to western Pennsylvania.

She grew up in Cranberry Township, Butler County, and graduated from Slippery Rock University with a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. After graduation, she pursued a doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. She and her family eventually moved to Dayton.

Maple Tree had a humble beginning.

“I started it at my kitchen table,’’ Wonders said.

Creating an organization promoting exercise is one matter, targeting it for cancer patients is another. She developed that idea while studying for her doctorate in Colorado.

With the help of hefty grants, Wonders undertook a detailed study of how cancer patients physically reacted to exercise.

In the study, she tracked cancer patients who underwent chemotherapy treatment and followed a prescribed exercising program during their recovery. The study indicated that exercise helped patients improve 6 percent in muscular endurance, 38 percent in muscular strength, 27 percent in cardiovascular endurance and 7 percent in cardiovascular system performance.

Wonders said the results showed exercise improves the health of chemotherapy patients.

“I think everyone understands that chemotherapy is so hard on someone,’’ she said. “It shows that people can get stronger during chemotherapy rather than being so sick and weak and maybe being confined in bed. They’re not just surviving chemotherapy. They’re thriving.’’

With that information in hand she began mulling over how to bring the program to the healthcare community. Wonders launched the Maple Tree concept in the Dayton area and the system grew from there.

Maple Tree now operates at seven Dayton-area locations, with 18 employees. One of the workers oversees fundraising, and the rest are trainers.

Nearly two-thirds of those in the program are breast cancer patients.

While Maple Tree’s goal is getting patients healthier, hospitals, insurance companies along with federal Medicare and Medicaid programs have another motivation.

“It saves them money,’’ Wonders said.

If cancer patients undergoing the exercise program are healthier, it costs insurance companies and hospitals less money, she explained.

Collecting data on patients’ exercising results draws that group to the table, Wonders said.

If a patient undergoes hospital treatment and is readmitted within 30 days after being released, Medicare and Medicaid generally don’t pay that cost. That means hospitals take a financial beating.

 “The Dayton hospitals calculated they saved almost $7 million in 2016 on just readmittance,’’ Wonders said.

For now, Maple Tree is relying on contributions and some help from hospitals with no out-of-pocket costs to patients.

“Our goal is getting the attention of insurance companies,’’ she said. “(Hospitals) can’t bill for these services now. It seems so illogical that it hasn’t happened yet. “We’re literally talking to insurance companies almost daily.’’

There is another reason why Wonders decided to bring her services to Sharon and the Buhl Community Recreation Center. Jason Kmick, executive director of the nonprofit center, is an old college friend from their days at Slippery Rock University.

“We both majored in exercise physiology, and I got to become really good friends with her husband, and so we kept in communication over the years,’’ Kmick said.

There is no financial arrangement with the Buhl Club, such as charging Maple Tree fees, he said. Also, club members seeking to get into the program also won’t be charged a fee.

“We’re just trying to get the program off the ground,’’ Kmick said.

While they are both in the same field, he said the science of applying exercising for cancer patients isn’t a familiar subject for him.

“I’m lucky I’ve had very limited experience with cancer in my life,’’ Kmick said. “But Karen has the data and experience to show how significant exercising can be for people recovering from cancer. We’re excited about having her and Maple Tree here to train us.’’

TO MAKE AN appointment with Maple Tree at the Buhl Club, call Samantha Henry at 724-996-2789.

Above Article is from the Sharon Herald