A Pennsylvania College of Technology faculty member recently participated in a humanitarian trip to Juarez, Mexico, where she offered occupational therapy to people with disabilities and training to their caregivers.
Patricia J. Martin, assistant professor and clinical director of the occupational therapy assistant program, traveled to Juarez from Feb. 15-21 through the nonprofit corporation Therapy Mission Inc., which brings occupational therapy services to parts of the world where therapists are scarce or nonexistent.
The group’s mission is to treat and teach clients and train their caregivers so that beneficial techniques will be carried out long after the therapists leave, allowing those with disabilities to live life to the fullest extent possible.
Martin joined four other occupational therapy practitioners and a physical therapist who provided volunteer occupational and physical therapy and training at Fundacion Integra, a clinic purchased and maintained by private and charitable donations and volunteers. Work was done at the Fundacion Integra’s Villa Integra, a facility that provides rehabilitative services to more than 500 children and adults with disabilities who are not eligible to receive rehabilitation services anywhere else.
Volunteer therapists provided the participants of Villa Integra with the strategies to support occupation, mobility and function within their own environments in a safe and healthy manner. In addition to providing direct occupational therapy services, the volunteers designed and constructed a sensory room and made adaptive equipment.
Martin also participated in workshops for parents, caregivers and “trainers” on strategies for positioning patients, transfer techniques, making sensory toys, communication and feeding. She emphasized using material for wheelchair positioning, toys and adaptive equipment that would be readily available so the ideas and techniques could be easily replicated.
Parents and caregivers were taught how to make wheelchair seat cushions using heavy cardboard, duct tape and “pool noodles.” Adaptive seating and lap trays were constructed out of cardboard and duct tape. Sensory toys were made out of paper plates, beans and rice to stimulate auditory senses. Water bottles, glitter and oil were used to stimulate vision, and a blanket was used as a swing so that children who could not move on their own could experience movement.
Slow, rhythmic swinging could also be used to decrease spasticity in the child’s muscles. Toys to improve a child’s hand function were constructed out of macaroni, pipe cleaners, wooden pegs, a coffee can with a slit in the lid, jingle bells, yarn and paper plates.
“Therapists were challenged to get ‘back to the basics’ and use their creativity to improve the lives of those who came for services,” Martin said. “It was an experience that emphasized how much we have and how much we take for granted. The people we served are devoted to family and were so grateful for this help. They were eager to learn as much as they could to help their loved ones reach their maximum potential.”
For more information about the occupational therapy assistant majors or other academic programs offered by the School of Health Sciences at Penn College, call 570-327-4519 or visit online.