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Putting Wheels in Motion

November 29, 2021

“Leisure activities provide a way for patients to find themselves again”

HSC Recreational Therapist, Taylor Owens, in the rec therapy room.

For the past 20 months, COVID-19 has forced Manitobans to mourn the loss of social activities, livelihoods, and even lives. For many patients on HSC’s RR5 Specialty Adult Rehab Inpatient Unit, they have also been mourning the loss of muscle, mobility, and limbs.

RR5 builds functional independence and quality of life for patients from all walks of life, from 17 to 100 years old, who typically stay on the unit for one to seven months. They are patients who have suffered spinal cord injuries, endured amputations, and have been diagnosed with neuromuscular disorders, such as multiple sclerosis. Recently, RR5 has also been home to post-COVID patients who were in the ICU and now have damaged kidneys, nerves, and general weakness that require modifications like ramps and wheelchairs.

Re-learning to write is one of the many skills achieved on RR5.

Taylor Owens has spent the past four years on this unit as a recreational therapist, proving that leisure is more than amusement—it’s a lifeline.

“People on RR5 are going through something life-changing. They are struggling with losing aspects of independence and identities,” says Owens. “I love my job, and I would be devastated and lost if I suffered an injury that prevented me from working. Leisure activities provide a way for patients to find themselves again.”

Leanne Taylor was one of those patients. In 2019, at age 24, she propelled over her bicycle handlebars, dislocating her spine. After she spent weeks recovering at HSC from her spinal cord surgery, Taylor was ready to move forward—figuratively and literally—with a wheelchair.

Owens took Taylor to a track where she was able to use a sport wheelchair to challenge herself even further. “It is on outings like these where RR5 patients not only develop new skills, but they gain a new community,” notes Owens. At the track, Taylor met Paralympian Colin Mathieson who introduced Taylor to competitive Paralympic sports.

Leanne Taylor at a paratriathlon competition in Portugal.

While Taylor lost sensory function from her waist down, she gained new skills and a new piece of her identity: Paralympic hopeful. Taylor recently represented Canada in the Paratriathlon World Championships and has her sights set on the 2024 Paralympic Games.

Leanne Taylor found a new way to enjoy cycling after a devastating bike accident and now trains daily for the Paralympics.

A consequence of the pandemic that we all know too well is the loss of outings. And while the world is opening, there are still infection-control protocols that prevent RR5 patients from having experiences like Taylor’s.

“I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t had that opportunity. It’s so important for patients to have access to outings and activities to gain a sense of control at a time when you feel such a loss of control,” says Taylor.

Like many who turned to puzzles during the pandemic, Owens, with no operating funds, did her best to also battle quarantine restlessness on RR5 by purchasing games and craft supplies. In addition to needing more art supplies, patients would greatly benefit from having equipment like a sport wheelchair (what Taylor and prior RR5 patients had the opportunity to use) and a hand cycle on the unit as restrictions remain.

L-R: A hand cycle that allows people without movement or strength in their lower extremities to cycle again; a sport wheelchair that allows ease of movement and participation in sports.

“While much of the hospital puts an emphasis on physical well-being, I also like to focus on emotional and social well-being. Giving patients an opportunity to try these activities on the unit provides them with a leisure activity to pursue once discharged. When we set patients up for success, we see fewer hospital re-admissions,” says Owens.

 

On Giving Tuesday, consider a gift to recreation therapy to help the many Manitobans who rely on the care of RR5. To learn more about their current needs and what your money is supporting, click here. To make your gift now, please click here and type “Giving Tuesday” in the comments section of the donation page, call us at 204-515-5612, or text HSCF to 20222 to donate $20 now (tax receipts will be issued via Mobile Giving Foundation). From now until January 31, all texted-in gifts will be matched up to $5,000 by Manitoba pork producers!

 

-Natasha Havrilenko