Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Getting back in motion in our rehab garden

Patient Jack Tennis, of Chestnutridge, Mo., works alongside Kristi Vandeloecht and Shanna Stafford in the rehab garden at Meyer Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital. The garden’s raised bed (high enough to accommodate a wheelchair) allows patients to get back to an enjoyable outdoor activity as part of their rehabilitation. 

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.”
- Luther Burbank, American botanist

People who enjoy gardening know the truth of those words. But following an illness or injury, many patients are no longer physically able to enjoy the activity that once brought them so much joy. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff at the Meyer Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital, patients can again find happiness in the garden, while completing their therapy program.

“Recreational therapy is an underestimated part of healing,” says Kristi Vandeloecht, a physical therapy assistant who helps with the garden. “Focusing on PT and OT is important, but the recreation side of therapy – helping patients relearn to do things that bring them inner peace – that’s what gives us the full picture of healing.”

Shanna Stafford, recreational therapist, worked with Vandeloecht to create the plans for the garden’s newest addition – a raised planting bed built from a wooden pallet. “We had it built so patients in wheelchairs can roll up to it and work while they remain in their chair. The sides are waist high so patients can lean against the pallet and work without the hindrance of a walker,” she says.

The adaptive tools the pair has created, including a rake, a shovel and a trowel, allow patients who are experiencing weakness the ability to perform gardening tasks. “They’re still able to do what they love,” says Vandeloecht.

Patient Jack Tennis enjoys working in the garden. “I like to plant stuff and grow things, and I really enjoy the time I get to spend outside,” he says. Tennis’ family has become involved with the project, too, caring for the plants when they visit.

The entire courtyard surrounding the garden spaces was built with rehabilitation in mind. As patients tend to the plants, they move across a variety of walking surfaces, from concrete to wood chips to grassy slopes and even sand. “Everyone has a different surface at home, and this allows our patients to practice on the different surfaces they will encounter,” says Vandeloecht.

Says Stafford: “Having an illness or injury doesn’t mean you have to quit doing the things you like to do. Our goal with recreational therapy is to take someone’s interests and get them as close to their previous functioning level as we can. This garden helps us do that.”