A Phoenix Risen – How Hand Therapy Helped to Heal
Posted on 6/7/2018 by Annette Monaccio, O.T., CHT
Hand Therapy Week is held during the first full week of June and hosted by the American Society of Hand Therapists. Certified hand therapists are dedicated to helping patients with hand and arm injuries and conditions that may be affecting their daily life.
As a certified hand therapist, I’ve had the privilege to meet many people with a wide range of injuries. Watching an individual perform a task or activity that we often take for granted is a proud and exciting moment for both a patient and therapist after an injury.
I met Lexi, a shy and nervous young girl, who had been through a traumatic experience and hospitalization after a bon fire accident left her with severe burns over most of her body. She had spent several months at a local hospital in the intensive care burn unit. Upon beginning treatment, I knew that I needed to address and acknowledge her injuries, expectations of participation in therapy, boundaries for success and goals for recovery and independence.
Lexi had many burns on her face, arms, hands, torso, legs and back. There were many areas to address with her injuries, including:
Managing her wounds
Regaining mobility in her extremities
Performing basic activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and returning to school
Processing the psychological impact of others reactions to her appearance
I knew there were many things that we had to address quickly to avoid the loss of motion of her arms, especially her hands which were severely burned and beginning to form contractures/scarring along the fingers. We developed custom splints, “orthoses” made to fit the individual. It required many attempts for success due to Lexi’s injuries, but the key to our success was listening to determine the best splint, proper fit, adjustment and fashion for a preteen. A few color adjustments of splinting materials, a little added “bling” and voila, it was done and Lexi began wearing her orthotic!
The management of her wounds – cleaning, dressing, monitoring and education – were our first steps of trust and understanding, since this was one of the most difficult aspects of intervention. The next process of touching, moving and passively stretching her hands and fingers were the true challenge. Building trust and establishing goals were vital. We were on our way as a team to improve her ability to bend a finger, make a fist and then use her hands to accomplish daily tasks. There was blood, sweat and tears during many sessions, but, most importantly, there was a lot of laughter, too.
LexiLexi’s parents were dedicated to helping her in the center and at home for carryover of the program. As I watched her mom tie her shoes and write out some of the exercises we were reviewing one day, I asked Lexi why she wasn’t doing this on her own. She said, “I can’t do it myself.” This began the educational component with Lexi and her mom of why it was important to allow Lexi some reasonable time to attempt to gain her independence to complete daily tasks on her own. Yes, it was quicker and easier for someone to do this, but what would happen the first day back to school? Within two sessions, Lexi was independently putting on her shoes, tying them and had her first sense of independence since the accident.
Her laughter and smile were infectious with each new success. Next, Lexi was writing with adapting pens and pencils and back to writing poetry. Putting on her arm and leg compression garments and gloves was a tug of war match and she won each time. Again, another success. There were challenges of zipping a backpack, carrying books and fatigue following walks through the hallways in school, but Lexi overcame them all.
We initiated more challenges with fine motor skills with the purchase of a Barbie head and working on braiding hair. As a preteen, this was a must for Lexi. She now started braiding and had taken the focus of the hypersensitivity of her burns away to a new focus of allowing herself to touch different textures, which previously prevented her from using her hands for any activities. With each new challenge came a new set of frustrations, successes and, ultimately, independence.
Due to the extent of her burns, Lexi has been through several follow-up surgeries. She has returned each time to the center and hand therapy treatment with a new set of goals and motivation to quickly return to her routine. Step-by-step she continued to accomplish her goals, becoming independent with all activities. She now has excellent mobility of her arms, hands and legs.
Lexi has matured into a teen. She drives, attended prom, participates in track and other sports at school and has become a teen counselor at the burn camp she has attended each summer since her accident. I observed Lexi go from a quiet, scared child to an energetic and expressive young lady. She has taught me about determination, hard work and maintaining a positive attitude. She is an inspiration. I was not only the therapist, but the student learning each day from her.
By: Annette Monaccio, O.T., CHT. Annette is an occupational and certified hand therapist with Banner Physical Therapy in Arizona. She has treatment expertise in hand/upper extremity conditions and injuries, pelvic floor health and cancer rehabilitation.
Banner Physical Therapy, NovaCare and NovaCare Rehabilitation are part of the Select Medical Outpatient Division family of brands.