Teens with chronic health conditions turn to specialized St. Paul health clinic


Beau Karlen, 20, grips a dynamometer,
a tool that measures muscle strength in
the hand and is used to diagnose disease
and measure progress, among other things.
Photo courtesy of I.EM.PHIT.

Following a workout, Beau Karlen, 20, hurls a ball at one of his fitness instructors at the Institute for Exercise Medicine & Prevention.

But it’s all in good fun – a game of dodgeball – at the St. Paul health clinic, which specializes in physical conditioning and nutrition counseling for children and adolescents with chronic disease or special health needs.

“You’re kidding, right,” Clinic Director Chris Coffey shouts at the instructor. “You’re not letting them hit you on purpose, are you?”

Coffey grabs a ball at his feet and hurls it at the instructor.

On this particular evening, there are two boys at the clinic, which is known by its acronym – I.EM.PHIT. One has Down Syndrome, the other is asthmatic. The teens and children who come to the clinic are usually referred there by their doctors, and most have pre-existing health conditions.

Chris’s clients often aren’t accepted at regular gyms because of insurance liabilities related to their health conditions, or because other kinds of gyms and trainers aren’t equipped to provide fitness guidance to them.

Patients begin with an interview with an I.EM.PHIT trainer to talk about their condition and what can be done about it, then put through physical tests and a metabolic assessment. They work with a trainer to create an exercise plan for home and at the facility, along with nutritional guidelines.

Beau works out with Chris Coffey,
clinic director and exercise physiologist.
Photo courtesy of I.EM.PHIT.

Beau played football all through high school, but when he finished school his fitness options were very limited, his father said. That’s where I.EM.PHIT comes in. Beau uses his time at I.EM.PHIT to stay in shape because he has nowhere else to go.

I.EM.PHIT has its roots in Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. The clinic spent six years at Children’s before moving to its new facility last October. Since then enrollment has been limited, but Chris has his sights set high, with hopes of opening several other facilities around the Metro and acquiring several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment.

A non-profit clinic, membership fees can be covered by teens’ health insurance, but I.EM.PHIT also receives funding from private donors. They never turn any patient away, Coffey said.

Beau won a gold medal in Giant Slalom Snowboard in the 2009 Special Winter Olympics, he said, and enjoys working out.

Chris pulls Beau aside and asks him to check his heart rate. “Ideally it should be around 160,” Chris says.

Beau checks his heart rate monitor. It reads “162.”

Check out Beau’s blog about his sports adventures.

Before the dodgeball bout began, Beau had already put in a rigorous work out, including running, which Chris said he hated to do before he started working out at I.EM.PHIT.

“Even though it’s good when we get good results on paper,” says Chris, “We always keep in mind that the best success is fun.”