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Occupational Therapy Gets Patient Playing Again


Pictured, L to R: Jenna Jones, OTR/L, Jennifer Dukes, MOTR/L, Sharon Stankovits-Wong, MS, OTR/L, Andrea Puglia, OTR/L, Jennifer Patrick, MS, OTR/L. Not pictured: Eileen Scanlon,  MBA, OTR/L,CHT, Lead Occupational Therapist, and Kelly Livingston, COTA.

When Rodney MacDougall, of Dover, was hospitalized in 2008 for severe burns caused by an electrocution accident, playing the guitar was not one of his top priorities. During treatment for the burns, MacDougall was told that all the fingers on his left hand might have to be amputated.

His physician managed to repair large portions of his hands, but MacDougall still lost two fingers. Grafts were needed on his forearms and wrists, and nerve damage left him with an inability to feel or grip small objects.

Buttoning his shirt, tying his shoes, and making a sandwich were now major feats to accomplish. MacDougall, a long-time guitarist, put making music out of his mind.

Upon discharge from Crozer Chester Medical Center, MacDougall’s physician referred him to Eileen Scanlon, MBA, OTR/L, CHT, Bayhealth Lead Occupational Therapist. This connection would eventually lead to MacDougall’s working with a recording agency to produce a CD.

“I like to tease Eileen that she walks on water,” joked MacDougall, a deeply spiritual man who plays regularly at Destiny Christian Church, in Dover. “But she really has worked miracles with me. I never thought I’d be able to play music again.”

Because MacDougall lost feeling in his hands, he was unable to use a traditional guitar pick. He couldn’t grasp the pick or manipulate it on the guitar. Scanlon created a new pick for Macdougall from thermoplastic material, often used for splints and orthotics. It fits over his finger so he can strum the guitar.

 “Music is part of Rodney’s identity. In Occupational Therapy, we help our patients continue to do the things that define who they are—even if they must do them differently due to their injuries,” explained Scanlon.

Although we often equate the word “occupation” with “work,” this branch of medicine takes a broader view. Occupational Therapy addresses any activities that make up a person’s daily routine.

The Occupational Therapy Department at Bayhealth assists inpatient and outpatient populations in overcoming functional impairments resulting from injury or disease. Inpatient therapists teach patients new ways of completing essential self-care tasks such as dressing, eating, and bathing.

They develop a thorough understanding of the match between the patient’s needs, abilities, and home environment. A patient may need equipment, therapy, or other support in order to move home or to the next state of care.

Outpatient therapy may include strengthening or range-of-motion exercises geared towards throwing a ball, pulling a lever, or, in MacDougall’s case, strumming a guitar.

“People who’ve had injuries have lost a sense of control—they can’t do something important for themselves. We help them discover ways to bring that control, that self-sufficiency, back into their lives,” said Scanlon.

Scanlon is currently in discussion with Taylor Guitars, a leading manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars, about developing a larger pick similar to the one she crafted for MacDougall.

To celebrate Occupational Therapy Month, the Bayhealth department will enjoy friendly games, special luncheons, and a poster presentation on clinical topics.

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