The Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) offers free clinics every year for adults coping with physical disabilities.
The 10-week clinic, running from February to April, is managed by students under the supervision of licensed occupational therapists. It serves clients who either have no insurance or have run out of benefits, with most of them suffering from neurological conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and Parkinson’s disease.
The students work with clients on accomplishing activities of daily living (ADL), such as personal care and home tasks, and help to educate their caregivers. Some of the clients and family members have been attending the occupational therapy (OT) clinic for several years.
Here’s what they have to say:
Carol Morris has been bringing her 74-year-old husband, James, to the clinic for the past three years after he suffered a spinal injury and was paralyzed from the neck down.
“When he first started, he couldn’t walk or use his hands,” she said. “He’s come a long way.”
On a recent trip to the clinic, James Morris was standing up and shooting magnetic darts to work on his balance.
“I’d be bad without it,” Morris said of the clinic. “I’d be dependent on everyone to do everything for me.”
“It reinforces and keeps my mind in a positive state,” he added.
It is not the Morris family’s first experience with the SMU clinic. After their son was shot in the face in a road-rage incident and suffered a stroke in 2009, they brought him to the clinic.
“He loved coming,” said Carol. “They taught him independence and now he’s living on his own.”
Allison Angove sustained a traumatic brain injury after falling off a horse and this is the third year that her father and full-time caregiver, Grant Angove, has been bringing her to the clinic.
Student therapists work with Allison on preparing healthy snacks, exercises to improve her short-term memory, and recently equipped her wheelchair tray with a non-stick mat to prevent items from slipping.
“We’ve definitely gotten good information here,” said Grant. “If it weren’t for that kind of guidance, I’d be in the dark.”
On a recent Monday afternoon, 79-year-old Pat Chew was teaching the student therapists how to play Mahjong, an ancient Chinese game using colorful tiles. Such activities, including her favorite hobby of knitting, were not possible for her after she suffered a major stroke four years ago and was paralyzed on her right side.
Chew said attending the OT clinic, as well as SMU’s physical therapy (PT) clinic, for the past three years has helped her walk again with the help of ski poles. The student therapists also developed an adaptive device to help her hold her knitting needle in her weakened right hand.
“The clinic is very beneficial,” said Chew. “Now I even swim and drive. I’m the only one I know who suffered a stroke who can do that.”
Nine years after being assaulted and suffering a traumatic brain injury, Edivan Dos Santos continues to struggle with a variety of physical disabilities. Though he is legally blind and has difficulty performing routine tasks, attending SMU’s OT and PT clinics have helped him move forward.
“There have been tons of progress,” said Laura Margulius, Dos Santos’ partner and caretaker. “He doesn’t plateau; he’s always changing and getting better. SMU programs help us navigate his changing levels of ability. The fact that we’re able to come here and get help: that’s huge.”
Dos Santos and Margulius say OT clinic therapists have been helping him to better perform activities of daily living such as brushing his teeth, washing his hair in the shower, and folding his laundry.
“Every time we come to your clinic, we have a new milestone,” Margulius said.
Margulius said their 17-year-old son has started coming to the clinic to learn from the therapists how to be a caregiver to his father.
“We become partners in the therapy by presenting issues he needs to work on and then the students brainstorm a program for him,” she said.