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Liver Transplant Recipient Maintains Health with LifeStyles

Rhonda Fenske was born with a rare congenital liver disease that affected her entire body and stunted her growth.

“After I was born, my parents were told I would not live very long,” she says.

Thankfully she did, and at age 35, she underwent a liver transplant. She’ll need to take immunosuppressive medication for the rest of her life. Exercise, fitness and healthy food choices also play a major role in her health.

While undergoing physical therapy at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Health and Wellness Center in Green for an ankle injury after her transplant, Rhonda learned about the LifeStyles fitness program.

“My physical therapist thought I would benefit from joining,” she says.

She started with a personalized physical assessment and exercise plan developed specifically for her. She also took advantage of one of her membership perks – regular reassessments.

“The reassessments allowed me to get a new exercise plan every six weeks to advance and work toward my fitness goals,” she says.

Eventually, she even decided to hire a personal trainer.

“Both of the trainers I’ve worked with through the years have taught me good form and proper technique,” she says. “We’ve focused on strength and endurance, exercises for my core muscles, and improved range of motion in my shoulders.”

Rhonda says Matt, her current trainer, emphasizes different stretching exercises to help reduce inflammation and injuries while increasing her flexibility.

“My weekly workout regimen consists of one 30-minute training session with Matt and two to three additional days working on weight-bearing exercises from the exercise prescription sheet,” she says. “I often follow each with 30 to 45 minutes of walking or running on the track or using the elliptical.”

Rhonda enjoys supplementing her cardiovascular exercise with group exercise classes like Zumba, which combines Latin and international music with choreographed dance moves led by an instructor.

“Zumba is a passion of mine,” she says. “It incorporates interval training (alternating fast and slow rhythms) to help improve cardiovascular fitness.”

Not only does Rhonda take advantage of all the fitness offerings at LifeStyles, she also has learned a lot about diet and nutrition at free, monthly NuFit seminars.

“I’ve learned about different types of diets versus proper nutrition in addition to many fitness topics,” she says. “I always take what I learn and apply it to my daily routine both at home and at the gym.”

When LifeStyles offers ballroom dancing classes, Rhonda and her husband, Glenn, can be regularly found in the class.

Rhonda Fenske ballroom dancing at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Lifestyles.
Rhonda Fenske and her husband Glenn Fenske.

“These six-week sessions are offered on Tuesday evenings and taught by a professional dance instructor who teaches us dances like the Cha-Cha, Rumba, Waltz and Swing,” she says.

Prior to COVID, Rhonda also participated in the Member Advisory Group and enjoyed the opportunity to share members’ perspectives with management.

“I liked participating in the process and making recommendations for improvements to an already outstanding organization,” she says.

Since becoming a member, Rhonda’s overall health has improved, and it shows medically.

“I now only take calcium, Vitamin D3 and a very low dose of my immunosuppressive medication,” she says. “I went from getting my post-transplant labs drawn once a month to now getting them every other month. I’m showing no signs of organ rejection.”

Through hard work and determination, Rhonda can do things that she once thought impossible.

“The LifeStyles staff has played a huge role in giving me an even greater sense of the importance of fitness and its benefits on my health and well-being,” she says. “Taking care of myself is my way of honoring my donor and their family for this precious gift of life.”

To learn more about the benefits of Akron General’s LifeStyles program, including locations, services and hours of operation, visit AkronGeneral.org/LifeStyles.

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