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Philadelphia Shriners Hospital celebrates the contribution of occupational therapists

Occupational Therapy Month sheds light on importance of occupational therapy

Philadelphia Shriners Hospital celebrates the contribution of occupational therapists

April is Occupational Therapy month and the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital is celebrating the contributions our dedicated team of occupational therapists make to the rehabilitation department and overall patient care.

While many think of occupational therapy as strategic activities to get someone back into the workplace, it takes on a different meaning inside Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia.

“As occupational therapists, we like to use the term ‘occupation’ in a way that describes how a patient occupies their time,” said Occupational Therapist Justine LaPierre. “That can range from taking notes in class to applying makeup, to playing a sport.”

Just as adults identify with their daily activities, so do adolescents.

“Occupational therapists fundamentally believe that our daily activities define who we are as people,” said Occupational Therapist Jaclyn Miley. “If we aren’t able to perform such activities, we could feel a loss of self and dysfunction.”

These common “occupations” for a child include eating, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth and, most importantly, playing. At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia, occupational therapists collaborate with patients and families to figure out a way to enable patients to engage in these activities.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said Miley.

Occupational therapy sessions vary from patient to patient, depending on desired achievements. Seventeen-year-old James wants to be able to play basketball again. Thirteen-year-old Oksana wants to be able to apply her own makeup. Seven-year-old Caiden wants to put his prostheses on by himself. Though their goals vary, each patient will spend time with an occupational therapist participating in activities designed to help them achieve their goals. 

“We have a really unique vantage point at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital,” said LaPierre. “We aren’t limited to one specialty – we see it all. And we’re able to analyze how small components can play into the bigger scope of a patient’s everyday activities and life.”

James is only seven weeks post-surgery, recovering from a tendon transfer procedure that will restore his pinch and grasp ability after a traumatic brachial plexus injury. Occupational Therapist Heather Ford spends time with James retraining and strengthening his muscles so that one day, James will be back on the basketball court.

LaPierre and Oksana spend their therapy sessions working on a needlepoint craft. The pinching and pulling of the yarn helps Oksana to strengthen her grasp after her tendon transfers in her left hand.

Patients often receive homework from their therapists and they are able to translate the progress they make during therapy into their real life.

“I was able to help my mom a lot in the kitchen preparing for Easter,” said Oksana. “I could pour things and hold the measuring cups. I caught myself using my middle finger to pinch because that’s easier, but I told myself ‘no, you have to use your thumb!’”

In addition to spending time with a patient during a treatment session, our occupational therapists’ roles can range from performing bath equipment evaluations and bike modifications to evaluating adaptive equipment and clothing.

Occupational therapists can also be found around the hospital working closely with our hand surgeons. Before surgery, therapists often complete in-depth evaluations, including educating patients and families. After surgery, they fabricate custom orthoses that are designed to assist a patient in achieving their ultimate goal.

“When you watch a child engaging in their choice occupations – self-feeding for the first time, swimming with adaptive equipment, playing without a perceived limitation — you see the importance and purpose of occupational therapy,” said Miley.

occupational therapist with a patient doing exercises in activity book

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