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Restoring Quality of Life and Preserving Independence

Occupational therapist (OT) Siomara H. remembers her first meeting with 82-year-old Ruth*. “She’d just had a total hip replacement and was so discouraged,” says Siomara. “She told me, ‘I can’t get into my bed or out of it—and I’m in so much pain, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do any of this.’”

In her trademark style, Siomara smiled encouragingly and shifted Ruth’s focus to a more positive topic by asking what her rehabilitation goals were. Ruth replied that she wanted to regain her independence and not have to rely on her daughter, who had flown in from California to help out as she recovered.

Siomara assured Ruth that she would absolutely be able to do that—and quickly. She immediately began working with Ruth on maneuvering with a walker and using the chair lift that had originally been installed for her late husband. The daughter also supplied a yoga strap that her mother could loop around her foot, allowing her to swing her leg up onto the bed.

“On my second visit, Ruth was a whole other person,” says Siomara. “Even with her arthritis and bad knees, she was ambulating just fine with her walker. ‘We’ve turned it all around!’ she told me.” Siomara went on to teach Ruth how to use a sock aid to slip socks onto her feet—which Ruth proclaimed “magic!”—and other techniques that allowed her to carry out activities of daily living despite her still-recovering hip joint.

Improving the quality of patients’ lives on a daily basis is what a visiting OT’s job is all about, explains Siomara. She herself had known she wanted to be an occupational therapist ever since serving a summer college internship at Manhattan’s Rusk Rehabilitation, where she first observed OTs at work. “I liked the fact that they did such a broad spectrum of things,” she recalls. “But what really impressed me was that they seemed to be having a lot of fun!”

Siomara started working at VNSNY Home Care in 2007, after hearing a talk by VNSNY’s Director of Clinical Operations Support, Joe Gallagher, who was then a rehab manager in Queens. “I loved what he said about making an impact on people’s lives by going into their homes. My first job was in a skilled nursing facility, but in home care, I’m able to do even more for patients since they’re in their own environment. I help them become more self-sufficient and enhance their lives by learning new and safer ways of doing things.”

She currently is treating clients on Nassau County’s North Shore, and most of the people she sees are recovering from stroke, cardiac, spinal, or cancer surgery, or a joint replacement, as was the case with her patient Ruth. By Siomara’s fifth visit, Ruth was cooking her own meals and performing all her essential daily activities—a sign that she was ready to be discharged from home rehab therapy. When the moment came to say goodbye, Ruth thanked Siomara for helping her live independently once again. “You showed me so many things that I never thought I’d be able to do by myself,” she said. “You saved my life!”

* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.

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