What is your position and role at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare? I am an Occupational Therapist (with an Assistive Technology Practitioner credential) who works mainly with outpatients at our various sites. I have been at Gillette for 23 years. I specialize in powered mobility— helping children and adults drive powered wheelchairs to gain independence in mobility. Some of the children I work with have spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) or Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), and need special controls. That might be something like a smaller joystick that doesn’t require as much force to push, or fiber optics which are little switches made of beams of light that make the chair drive when covered. Other children use head controls to drive chairs or switches/buttons on a tray—we are only limited by our creativity!
What does your average day look like? A normal day for me is anything but normal, as I see such a variety of patients. I might be helping a patient learn to drive a powered wheelchair one moment, and helping another figure out the best type of bath chair to use to keep them safe the next moment. I also create home programs for stretching to keep patients’ muscles from tightening up or becoming painful in between appointments.
Talk a little about why you chose a career in healthcare, and why you chose to work at Gillette. I’ve always wanted to help people and have enjoyed working with children since I was young. I just stumbled on the field of occupational therapy when I learned about it from my cousin who was a COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) at the time. When she explained what she did I immediately said, “That’s what I want to do!” I pursued the degree and never turned back! I’ve loved every minute of it with the amazing diversity of what we can do to help others. I covered a maternity leave at Gillette and once the maternity leave was over, my dream was to work permanently here. An open position came within a year. It was offered to me and I’m still here.
What has been one of your most rewarding moments at Gillette? Putting very young children into powered wheelchairs immediately provides a new level of independence for them. Whether it’s a patient driving off away from their parents saying, “Bye, mom!”, or driving up to a drinking fountain because they were thirsty and couldn’t verbalize it, it’s extremely rewarding.
I’ve placed children under the age of two who have SMA into powered chairs, and it has always amazed me how quickly they pick it up and are zooming around the room!
What clinical development is on the horizon that you’re most excited about? Or is there anything new and exciting in your field/specialty? The technology keeps changing for powered wheelchairs to allow for greater independence in mobility and positioning. I am hoping that insurance companies will soon realize that age should not be a factor in being able to drive a powered wheelchair. Anyone with the desire and demonstrated skills should be given the chance!
iPads with touch capability have opened the world for children who have SMA with limited movement and strength in their hands. I look forward to many more ways they can access their world through this upcoming technology!
What is one fun fact about you? I’ve been married 25 years, and we have 3 boys ages 17, 14, and 4 ½. We also added a Chinese exchange student last spring for a few months, and he just recently moved back to Minnesota to attend college. Sky diving has been on and crossed off my bucket list!
What do you like to do in your free time? I enjoy time with my kids doing fun things. We enjoy playing cards as a family (the little one can even play UNO). I enjoy sewing but don’t seem to have much time for that these days.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Europe: Sweden and the Netherlands. I am of Swedish heritage and visited Sweden when I was 16. I would love to go back. My husband is Dutch and it would be great to visit and see all the tulips and windmills!
Editor's Note: Paula was featured in our 2015 ad campaign alongside Gillette patient, Chloe.