Injuries are a fact of life. And when they occur sometimes it takes more than a little ice, anti-inflammatory and rest to get back to doing those things that are "important to you." Enter the field of occupational therapy.

When retired Army Master Sgt. David Lang had to have a cancerous tumor removed from his right saliva gland he found his right vestibular, cochlear, and optical nerves were damaged in the radiation treatment. The result was severe episodes of vertigo that often keep him bedridden for a week at a time.

"I was unable to go anywhere in public from the fear of lights or loud sounds triggering an episode and travel outside of the local area was impossible," he explained. "Physical therapy was ineffective and the medications either masked the symptoms or made them worse."

But then he was referred to the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Ireland Army Health Clinic where a team of occupational therapist researched the problem and created a plan that has gradually eased the number and intensity of the vertigo episodes, sensitivity to bright and flashing lights, loud noises, and his terrible balance.

According to Maureen O'Brien, the chief of the TBI OT clinic, the ultimate goal of therapy in the TBI clinic is the same as any other occupational therapy clinic: to increase clients' independence and overall quality of life through engagement in meaningful activity.

O'Brien said the TBI OT team works with its clients to identify problem areas the patient may experience in their daily lives and to develop a plan to improve performance in the areas that mean the most to them. She added the team uses the latest research to guide its treatment plans.

"Because each client is different and has different priorities and symptoms, each plan we develop for clients is individualized," O'Brien said. "We do our best each day to help improve our clients' quality of life, regardless of level of ability."

Ling's priorities included getting back to the thing he loves--the outdoors.

"I had to stop enjoying my main hobby, fly fishing, for over three years," he recalled. "The intense dedication by my OT team has allowed me to once again, cautiously, resume not only fly fishing but I can go hiking, shop, and travel again. I thank (them) for dedication and 'never say no' attitude!"

But occupational therapy, which has its own outpatient clinic at IRAHC, isn't just about rehab geared for "occupations." OT is a rehabilitation service for individuals with illnesses or injuries that prevent them from full participation in daily life activities, work tasks, and leisure interests, according to Capt. Megan Beltran, the chief of the OT clinic.

"OT treats more than just work related injuries," she said. "We treat anything that prevents you from doing what you want to do, and treatments for those injuries include focused evaluation and management of neuromuscular-skeletal conditions of the upper body--we see a range of physical problems from carpal tunnel syndrome to flexor tendon repairs."

For example, retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Richard Pipes had two major surgeries on both his hands and his situation required wound care and rehab--all part of the services in the IRAHC OT clinic.
Pipes said he thought the IRAHC OT staff was knowledgeable and professional and he said they were very instrumental in his recovery.

Patients who have a hand injury could also need scar management, range of motion therapy and pain management in the form of electric stimulation, heat, ice and massage--all of which they would receive at IRAHC.

"The most rewarding thing about what the team does is seeing clients regain their independence and take control of their lives again," said Beltran. "We have helped clients with a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, visual problems, difficulty with memory or attention, anxiety, poor sleep, etc., so they can reintegrate into the community, complete their work duties, or school responsibilities, or household management, and participate in leisure activities of their choice."

OT is beneficial to people because it allows patients to recover and participate in the activities they want to do. And, she added, occupational therapy services are available to all active duty, family members, and retirees.

INFOBOX:
IRAHC Occupational Therapy open house is scheduled for April 20 from 1-3 pm in the outpatient OT clinic on the IRHC 1st Floor. Everyone is invited to stop in and meet the staff learn about OT equipment and treatments and ask questions.