This foundation of the Orthopaedic Institute for Children sends a medical team to Calexico, Mexico, nine times a year to care for disadvantaged children with orthopaedic issues.
What kind of care do you and the medical team provide on these trips?
The team flies to Calexico nine times a year, on the first Friday of the month, to hold an orthopaedic clinic for children in need. On three of the trips, we stay overnight. Typically, we leave from the Hawthorne Airport about 9 am and see 30 to 60 kids by the end of the day. For the overnights, we stay at the Mexicali General Hospital. Our team sees children of all ages from newborn to 18 years old. The kids come to us with a variety of orthopaedic issues, including clubfoot, scoliosis, contractures due to cerebral palsy and hip conditions such as slipped capital femoral epithesis. Some of the children have congenital deformities, while others have injuries they suffered in a traumatic accident such as a car crash. The team includes a physician, a medical resident, a nurse practitioner and me, a physical therapist. We evaluate and treat the kids and refer those who need surgery to UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica and Orthopaedic Institute for Children.
Why did you volunteer to join the team?
I started working at UCLA as a physical therapist for children and adults about three years ago and noticed that certain kids at the hospital were sponsored by the foundation. I realized many of these kids weren't receiving physical therapy as part of their treatment plan and asked if I could help. I joined the team and have been doing it regularly for the past two and a half years. I enjoy giving back to the community and find the work very humbling. Most of these kids come from families that have very little, yet they still come to us with gifts: food, flowers, cards, whatever they can find. During the clinic, the foundation holds a raffle for the children. One 10-year-old girl won a stuffed animal in the raffle but was so grateful for what we had done that she gave the prize back.
How do you perform physical therapy with young children?
If they are really young, like premature newborns, sometimes therapy just involves gentle touch. Really young babies who have had medical issues are often very adverse to being touched, but we also know it's developmentally important for them to be touched. With older infants, we move and stretch their limbs and can work on rolling, tummy time or trunk control. Some babies have congenital deformities and need splinting or bracing, so we may work on keeping their limbs flexible or teaching them how to get around. I recently started working with children with cancer. Sometimes a child comes to the hospital with bone pain that turns out to be cancer. I may provide physical therapy to that child even before he or she is diagnosed with cancer and then throughout all the different stages of treatment, through chemotherapy, surgery and recovery - a process that can take as long as a year.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love kids because they're so blunt, honest and direct. And they're so resilient. I work with patients of all ages, from the youngest infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to geriatric patients. Every day is different. In one day, I can provide touch therapy to a preemie, teach a child with an amputation how to walk with a prosthesis and then help a 95-year-old man with pneumonia learn how to walk with an oxygen tank. Every patient has different needs and I am constantly challenged to come up with physical therapy plans that meet those needs.
How did you become interested in becoming a physical therapist?
I played soccer in high school and intramural soccer in college, but had to stop when I tore my patellar tendon. I went to physical therapy for the injury and found I was really interested in the process. I like that physical therapy involves medicine and exercise science, and that I get to build a rapport with patients through their recovery. As a physical therapist, I enjoy being involved in a patient's continuum of care and assisting patients and families while they are critically ill through their discharge home.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and taking our dogs to dog beach. I exercise and hike as much as I can. I also like going to movies, working on new craft projects and spending time with friends.