How my experiences will provide my future clients with a spark to their lives and bring hope to their futures

Connie Wyatt learns she won the SPARC Award!

By Connie Wyatt, OT Student, University of Puget Sound, Grad Date 12/17

The word spark provides two types of definitions: a noun and a verb. The noun defines spark as “a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire, alight in ashes, or produced by striking together two hard surfaces such as stone or metal” while the verb defines spark as “to ignite.” Other definitions include: “a sense of liveliness and excitement,” “a small bright object or point,” and “a trace of a specified quality or intense feeling.” I love the simplicity of the verb, ‘to ignite.’ It is an action word which requires one to choose to do something. I like the implicit progression inherent in verbs. Verbs never stay in one place and as a future therapist, I want to constantly be moving towards a better, more glimmering (if you will) therapist. I have had many, many people ask me why I am always so smiley and happy all the time. I cannot help but realize that I have an incessant itch to ignite my life with kindness. I want to make others happy; I love the saying a ‘glimmer of hope’ because it implies that there is always a slight chance that something positive will happen. I rely on that saying each and every day of my life. I look for all the glimmers of hope from each day to provide me with a reason to wake up and give others with the glimmers they need to keep on progressing. My career as an occupational therapist relies on the notion that I will bring this spark into practice with each client; it is an energizing force and I feel eager simply writing about it. My future is bright and full of the kind of sparks that my future clients so desperately need from me. I am going to make a difference as an occupational therapist, but the difference I hope to make is one that each of my clients will believe they accomplished all on their own!

My focus on occupational therapy (OT) has been a constant in my ever-changing life. Although my life history is diverse, my attention always drew towards OT. In the last eight years, I spent my time doing many meaningful activities than some don’t get to do in a lifetime. Every job or opportunity I have taken is one that pushes me closer to my career. My eyes gravitate towards my co-workers, clients, or students who need this type of therapy in their lives.

Through the years, I have sought out many opportunities to grow and develop my skills as a compassionate mentor, friend and aide. Soon I will have the opportunity to use the skills I have been developing in my career as an occupational therapist. I have no doubt that lives will be changed and have been changed; if no one else’s, my own has been enriched. I hope my experiences in the following excerpts will help Ensign Therapy to understand the spark that will certainly transform the lives of those I work alongside with.

BRANDON

Is there anything that can bring more passion to an individual than personal experience with the person most dear to you? At the early age of 14, I developed the desire to become an OT. 11 years ago my older brother and best friend, Brandon, was hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury. It shattered my whole world. Initially, Brandon was only able to mutter `lil, lil, lil, lil’ when asked who I was. His brain function and actions were not collaborating. I had already witnessed a plethora of injuries, addictions, abuse and fights by this age with my older siblings, but this incident hit even closer to home (if that is possible). I couldn’t fathom the possibility of a best friend I couldn’t rely on like I did before. During those difficult weeks, I was given the time to relive memories with Brandon. I remembered a lot of good times and hoped that more were to come. Today, he is fully independent and has 95%+ brain function back. This experience gave me the ability to relate to the despair and grieving of family members, who are also our clients. It

also taught me the significance of time. Although, the rehab team was not in the forefront of my mind, I now realize that immediate intervention with OT is ideal and pertinent. OT clients will be much more likely to recover, the earlier they start working towards their goals. Brandon had to work with an OT, PT, speech pathologist, doctors, and nurses to successfully recuperate; teams are vital in rehabilitation and even my 14-year-old self realized that. I want to be a part of a team like the one that worked with my brother so I can change lives, every day, for the rest of my life.

HOME EVALUATIONS

As an OT student, I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Methow Valley in Central Washington where many individuals enjoy retirement. A group of us were given the opportunity to practice our home assessment skills in the homes of some of these individuals. I fell in love with the opportunity to provide recommendations for a safer, more livable space and was surprised by the knowledge that I, a mere graduate student, had to offer our clients. I immediately fell in love with working in the home and having the opportunity to quickly connect with people. Following this incredible experience, my entrepreneurial spirit led me down a series of networking paths and I have had the opportunity to advocate for my profession. I have connected with a well-known Certified Aging In Place instructor, Steve Hoffacker, and I have had the opportunity to connect with a seasoned OT who decided to open an Occupational

Therapy consulting business. My research caused me to stumble upon a bill that has not yet been passed which would provide a $30,000 tax credit for anyone over 65 who wants to install home modifications to prepare for aging in place. This information led me to work with my AOTA representative for the state of Washington to bring this bill to the attention of AOTA. Our hope is that this bill will be revised to include OT services, so the home modifications are assisting the special needs of each client. As occupational therapists we have a special ability to connect the home environment inevitable life events, but I am particularly eager about the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. Many of the baby boomers would like to age in place and preventing falls and other incidents early on will provide more healthy opportunities for them to age in place. Sometimes the initial spark of my many creative ideas eventually fade (I have many entrepreneurial ideas), but I am sure that the deep meaning that this project has in my life will give me the motivation I need to carry out each step. I am passionate about the happiness that a safe home can provide for people.

BOB

Bob is my life coach in understanding the ins and outs of the emotional and physical difficulties individuals with SCI’s deal with. How lucky was I to stumble upon an ad he posted for a trainer. He needed someone to ride with him on his tandem bicycle designed for and by him. He himself is the survivor of a fall, which resulted in an iSCI and has lived with this condition for 25 years. Bob is helping me to develop empathy, understanding and love for people I have yet to meet. He is developing in me a very real mindset of putting myself in his shoes. Bob offers me opportunities to feel what it feels like to be him; he is honest, he is open and he is blunt. Not only do I get to go grocery shopping and biking with Bob, but also, more importantly, I get the life knowledge that he has obtained and offered me. I often write down his words so I can remember them during future encounters with clients. His willingness to help me will surely have a ripple effect for the rest of my life. Bob has further added to my purpose as an OT and my desire to enlighten lives with understanding.

REHAB WITHOUT WALLS

When Carol Decker came to our program last spring, I was forever changed by her determination to live her life to the fullest. She is a beautiful mother of two young girls although she has never seen her youngest daughter before. During her second daughter’s birth she experienced ample complications, which resulted in blindness, neuropathy in one hand, two below the knee amputations and the amputation of her left hand. Her words inspired me and still do to this day. She began to talk about her rehabilitation when she got back home and she began to realize the obstacles she was going to have to overcome. She was discouraged and depressed (for good reason)! Rehab Without Walls came in and worked in her home and community and she talked about how the team collaborated with her to try anything that might aid in her independence. She admitted it was a long road, but attributed much of her success to her team at Rehab Without Walls. I was touched, so I obviously decided to call Rehab Without Walls the next day. After a few months, I was given the position as a rehab specialist. I get the opportunity to work one-on-one with individuals who are further along in their recovery and require less attention from licensed therapists. The opportunity to work independently has taught me incredible amounts about myself as a future therapist along with my ability to rely on team members when I need their advice and help. I have learned to jump right in and not be afraid of social stigmas in the community and I have learned from my mistakes. I have learned about how much I care about my clients and how much their happiness matters to me. This continued experience has solidified my desire to eventually work in the home as an OT.

UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND

The OT professors at University of Puget Sound are some of the best. They have taught me many important skills, but mostly they have provided me with the skill set to find the answer to any question that might arise in my future career. They have taught me to trust my clinical reasoning, but have also helped provide me with the skills I need to find evidence-based research to back up my practice. They provide hands-on experiences daily and have collaborated with us since our first day; I have envied my professors ability to increase our competence while simultaneously trusting our ideas and thoughts; this has enlarged my confidence as a future therapist (something I greatly lacked prior to graduate school). If there is one thing I have learned, it is that in occupational therapy it always depends on the person, the day, the environment, or the context. There is no black and white answer to any challenge and we must treat our clients as individuals. I am thrilled to use my creativity and education from UPS to better the lives of my future clients.

I know all of the experiences that I have cited (and so many more) have helped prepare me for a successful career in occupational therapy. I could not have jumped into this profession without the plethora of experiences I have in my tool belt. Luckily, these experiences continue to build upon one another and I will continue to grow as a therapist for the rest of my career. I will never be fully prepared for every situation, but I can continue to learn and become the spark that someone needs to get over the hurdles that they face. I already love my career as an occupational therapist and I know that I will make a difference. I cannot wait!