Alumna Douglas Makes Lymphedema Certification Program Possible

News Story: January 17, 2013

In its ongoing efforts to provide continuing education for professionals in the health care field, the College of Education and Health Professions' Physical Therapy Program has presented a special program for those treating secondary lymphedema. The condition afflicts many patients following cancer treatments that involve dissecting the lymph nodes. The 135-hour certification course, which was offered in June and July, provided participants with theoretical background and practical skills. Sacred Heart is the only university in the country offering this curriculum; normally, it is available through private enterprises.

A grant from the Breast Cancer Alliance (BCA) of Connecticut and the University’s Dr. Margaret Palliser Fund meant that 20 physical therapists could attend the program at a greatly discounted rate. The $2,600 cost for each student was reduced by $1,800 thanks to this funding, and PT practitioners from the region were spared the time and expense ordinarily incurred by attending such a program far from home. SHU alumna Karin Douglas worked to secure the BCA grant, and she established the Palliser Fund in 2001 to assist physical therapy students and encourage continuing education in the field.

Dr. Michael Emery, chairman of the University’s Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science Department and Associate Dean for the College, noted that the combined sponsorship allowed the College to “present this extraordinary post-professional educational program to physical therapists in our area to benefit the patients they serve. We were able to accommodate 20 participants this summer, but there was a waiting list of at least 40, and we look forward to future opportunities to serve health care professionals in our area.”
Students began their program with a nine-hour home study agenda. This was followed by intensive instruction in such specialized areas as lymphatic drainage for swollen extremities, compression bandaging, infection management, and specialized exercise programs. Participants developed strategies for individualized treatment programs with an emphasis on patient education and self-care.

Sacred Heart’s Physical Therapy program has been judged the best in Connecticut and among the top 25 in the United States. Its Margaret Palliser Fund was created by Karin Douglas, a member of the Class of 1984, to support University students interested in women’s health and to provide continuing education opportunities for area professionals. She was also instrumental in securing the $25,000 grant from the Breast Cancer Alliance that made the lymphedema certification program possible.

A long-time Stratford resident, Mrs. Douglas earned her associate’s degree, in Paralegal Studies, 25 years ago at Sacred Heart. She was so impressed with the quality of her educational experience that she created an endowed fund to assist scholars in paralegal – now pre-law – studies. This, she named for her friend and neighbor, Atty. Evelyn Conley, the wife of Sacred Heart’s first president, Dr. William H. Conley, who had encouraged her to attend the University.
In later years, following treatment for breast cancer, Mrs. Douglas developed lymphedema, a condition then little understood. She quickly educated herself on this issue and became very active in the field on a national level. To encourage advanced education in health care, she established a second endowment, which honors Sister Margaret Palliser, a long-time administrator at Sacred Heart. The Palliser Fund provides financial assistance to students, and it also facilitates continuing education for physical therapists in treating lymphedema.