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PT Exchange: Building Skills, Confidence, and Independence

Lives were changed forever during our 2010 Physical Therapy Exchange.  Just look at this boy’s excitement as he receives a walker of his very own, allowing him to walk independently for the first time ever!

PTexchange1

In less than two weeks, Love Without Boundaries’ 2014 Physical Therapy exchange will commence, and we hope to experience once again the joy that is written all over this boy’s face.

This year’s exchange, slated for March 15-20, will find physical therapists Ellen Dietrick and Kerry Palombaro providing training and education to therapists and staff at the Kaifeng Physical Therapy Center in Kaifeng, Henan, as well as in Social Welfare Institutions in Shangrao, Jiangxi and Zhengzhou, Henan. This will be a wonderful opportunity for Ellen and Kerry to share not only their physical therapy skills and knowledge but also their enthusiasm and passion for helping children with special needs overcome their physical challenges.

PTexchange4Lisa Hoffman and Ellen Dietrick assist a child learning to walk with a reverse walker during the 2010 PT exchange in Fujian province.

During a Physical Therapy Exchange (PT Exchange), western trained pediatric therapists (physical, occupational and/or speech therapists) travel to China to exchange their expertise and knowledge with their counterparts in China. Therapy exchanges are usually held in Chinese Social Welfare Institutions, but therapists often also visit foster care settings to provide services to foster children and training to foster parents. Participating therapists are LWB volunteers and travel at their own expense to be a part of the exchange.

LWB sponsors these yearly physical therapy exchanges in China because of the ever-increasing need for quality education and training in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Most social welfare institutions have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of children with physical disabilities in their care. In China, however, limited opportunities exist to learn how to care for a child with a disability. PT exchanges help reduce this education gap, allowing caregivers to become knowledgeable about ways to help a child overcome and manage their physical challenges that can greatly enhance a child’s independence and quality of life.

Ptexchange2Participants in the 2011 PT exchange in Guizhou province

PTexchange3Michelle Murphy demonstrating treatment techniques with a boy in Guizhou province during the 2011 PT Exchange.

Having been fortunate enough to be part of the therapy team during two previous exchanges, I can attest to the fact that these trainings can be life-changing, not only for the children but for the caregivers/participants and LWB therapists alike. First, the children benefit directly from being evaluated by an LWB therapist and having an ongoing treatment plan established. If needed, the child may receive specialized equipment like lower extremity braces or a reverse walker. This equipment, unavailable in China, can often allow the child newfound independence and greater participation in daily activities.

Second, caregivers/participants benefit by learning a variety of techniques, from proper positioning to handling to developmental activities that benefit not only those children currently in their care, but also future children who may have similar challenges and needs. Therapy training helps empower caregivers, giving them confidence in their abilities to care for a child with a physical challenge.

Lastly, of course, LWB therapists benefit by learning how to apply our therapy knowledge in wildly different circumstances than we are used to here in the United States.

Speaking for myself, I feel I am a better therapist and teacher because of the things I have learned during the PT Exchanges.  I have been forever changed by the amazing children and caregivers that I have had the opportunity to work with while in China.

~Lisa Hoffman is LWB’s Therapy Education Coordinator and Physical Therapy Training and Equipment Coordinator

While therapists donate their time, we are always in need of donations of gently used AFOs and equipment  such as reverse walkers as well as donations to finance equipment.  Help a child gain a lifetime of independence and confidence.  Contact [email protected] for donations of gently used equipment and make a donation to LWB’s PT fund here.

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