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Physical, occupational, speech therapy comes with challenges

Martin Lawler has seen a lot of change in his 30 years in the health field, including his last two decades as a physical therapist and his last two as manager of three Kaleida Health therapy efforts.

He talked about some of them – including a new cancer rehab program – as part of today’s In the Field feature in WNY Refresh.

Here’s what he said about the greatest challenge in the therapy field:

“In general, the hardest thing for us to do as rehab professionals is to make people understand that we are only as good as our patient. I don’t make an individual better, and an occupational therapist doesn’t make an individual better. A speech therapist doesn’t make an individual better. It’s the education we provide but it’s the physical effort and the dedication of the patient that ultimately leads to their improvement.

“We have to motivate, we have to encourage. Some people think we make them better. We don’t. You make yourself better. We’re here to keep you safe and give you the guidance to do that.”

During hospitalizations, it can be helping someone after surgery get out of bed or out of a chair, walk a hallway or climb the stairs, all in an effort to get them back home. In an outpatient setting, the work generally focuses on orthopedic or neurological work, helping to improve the range of motion, and address pain, in one or more parts of someone’s body.

When he talked about his wife, Nancy, a South Buffalo native who works as a speech therapist, he paused for almost minute. The biggest challenge for someone in that profession can be heart-wrenching.

“The majority of what they do in the hospital is with swallowing issues,” he said. “People who have strokes or a neurological problem, if they’re choking or have pnemonia, speech therapists have to assess the consistency of the food and have to tell some people that they can’t eat anymore.

“I think that’s the hardest job in the hospital, to tell somebody that they can’t drink or eat anymore because the food is not going into the stomach, it’s going into the lungs. And with swallowing issues, because you can’t see them, it’s difficult to get the information across to the patient and to the family."

Even at that point, he said, hope remains for many.

“You can have alternate levels of nutrition, feeding tubes. Some people they can help, some not.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh