Keeping Your Child Active During Stem Cell Transplant

This information will help you understand why activity is important during your child’s stem cell transplant and what your child’s healthcare team can do to help.

Activity and movement are important to help your child grow and develop. Being in the hospital and staying in one room can reduce your child’s mobility (ability to move) and level of activity. This can decrease your child’s strength and play skills.

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s (MSK) rehabilitation (rehab) team is here to keep your child active and engaged while they’re in the hospital.

The rehab services at MSK will help your child maintain their strength and improve their ability to do everyday activities. The rehab team is made up of physical therapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT) who will visit your child every week. They will work to encourage your child to stay active and participate in their daily routines during their hospital stay.

Physical Activity During Your Transplant is Very Important

Physical activity is important for children of all ages. Infants and young children learn new skills by exploring their surroundings and by playing with their family and toys. Preschool children learn how to interact with other children. School-aged children improve their balance and coordination by being active every day.


Exercise, play, and movement help to:

  • Keep your muscles strong
  • Keep your body flexible
  • Maintain your heart and lung health
  • Reduce stress and make you feel better
  • Improve your sleep

It’s important for your child to keep developing these skills. The goals of the rehab team during your child’s hospital stay are to:

  • Promote normal development
  • Maintain healthy levels of activity
  • Encourage movement and normal daily activities
  • Maintain strength during transplant
  • Encourage normal sleeping and waking patterns
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The Role of Your Child’s PT

PTs work to improve and maintain your child’s movement and ability to exercise. Your child’s PT will work with them to address any problems they may have with:

  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Walking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Breathing

They will work with your child to help them slowly progress to more advanced exercises, such as:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Skipping
  • Hopping
  • Playing sports
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The Role of Your Child’s OT

OTs work to improve your child’s ability to do everyday self-care tasks, engage in play activities, and use their cognitive (thinking) skills. Your child’s OT will work to address any problems your child may have with:

  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Eating
  • Using the bathroom
  • Grooming (such as brushing their teeth and combing their hair)
  • Playing
  • Participating in hobbies (such as building, drawing, crafts, puzzles)
  • School activities (such as handwriting)
  • Memory and problem solving tasks
  • Using electronics and social media

They will then work with your child to design a daily program to meet their activity needs and help them gain independence in self-care and play.

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Ways to Improve Your Child’s Physical Activity During Transplant

  • Keep your child’s routine in the hospital as close as possible to their routine at home.
  • Make sure your child does all self-care tasks, such as grooming and washing up, in the bathroom. These activities shouldn’t be done in bed.
  • Encourage your child to get out of bed and get dressed every day. Help them participate in games and activities like they do at home. If possible, your child should only spend time in bed while they’re sleeping.
  • Keep the lights on and shades up during the day and turn off TVs and reduce noise at night.
  • Be creative. Encourage your child to explore the area through play. For small children, use a mat on the floor to allow your child to move freely and learn new skills.

Be part of your child’s care while they’re in the hospital. Learn your child’s exercise program and offer support by doing the exercises together.

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Changes in Your Child’s Treatment

Although your child’s rehab staff and medical team work together to care for your child, you should let your child’s PT and OT know about any changes in their behavior or treatment. If necessary, your child’s therapy will be adjusted. Tell your child’s PT and OT if you notice a change in:

  • How much your child takes part in their daily activities
  • Your child’s ability to get in and out of bed, walk, or move
  • Your child’s interest in playing
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What Your Child Should Avoid

It’s generally safe for your child to get out of bed and be active at any time. However, when their blood counts are low, your child’s physical activities may need to change. For example, your child may bruise more easily if they have a low platelet count (less than 10,000). Also your child may feel very tired with a reduced hemoglobin level (less than 7). Your child’s healthcare team will tell you about your child’s blood counts and what activities they can safely do.

We don’t expect your child to be as active if they’re very sick. We can change their activities and therapy program and encourage them to participate as much as they can. When your child feels better, we will increase their therapy and play activities.

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Contact Information

My child’s physical therapist (PT) is: _____________________________

My child’s occupational therapist (OT) is: _________________________

Rehab services are provided Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Your nurse can contact us for you, but if you would like to call us directly, we can be reached at 212-639-7833.

Please use this space to write down any questions or concerns you have for us.

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