October is National Physical Therapy Month. In Florence School District 1, there are two therapists and a therapy assistant working with students age 3-21 to help them make the most of their educational opportunities.
When her sister was in medical school, Kari Wise realized that she didn’t actually want to be an architect; she wanted to be a physical therapist like her sister was training to be.
“I was a senior in high school when my sister Kami was at MUSC, so I got to go to the gross anatomy lab and that kind of thing,” Wise said. “When she graduated, she was doing evaluations when the in-patient rehab opened at Carolinas (Hospital), and I got to see that. I just realized that I never wanted to sit behind a desk. I love to talk and love to be around people. And with physical therapy, there are so many settings that you can work in.”
Wise took classes at Florence-Darlington Technical College and Greenville Technical College, earning her associates degree in health science with an emphasis on physical therapy.
When she graduated, she worked doing outpatient therapy with pediatric patients, because she loved working with children. Later, an opening led her to working with her sister and some of those same pediatric patients.
“Children can start coming to therapy from birth,” Wise said. “So when I started in the school system, a lot of the patients I had seen from birth I saw later when they started school.”
Working with her sister has been a great experience, Wise said.
“We’ve had some fun with it,” she said. “Kids get confused, and they’ll call me Ms. Kami and that kind of thing, but we work well together.”
Wise said that working with children – specifically with special needs children, whether their need is more physical or mental – is rewarding.
“I always say that I would much rather work with special ed,” Wise said. “When you walk in the room, they smile and they are happy to see you. To see a child get positioned in the stander and have support and then be able to access a switch to tell what they want, when they can’t verbalize that, there is nothing more rewarding than that.”
Though working in a school rather than a hospital or outpatient facility is different, Wise said having the support of a therapist helps students work through some of their physical limitations.
“In the school-based setting, we are making sure that the students can have access to their academics, through assistive technology and through positioning,” Wise said. “We see children who are in regular ed(ucation) but are just gross motor delayed. They can walk, but they are a little behind.
“On the other end of that, we also see children who are wheelchair bound, and they can’t feed themselves. Instead of focusing on making them more ambulatory, we work more towards making sure that they can participate in class activities and follow instruction.”
Wise’s sister Kami Galloway and the district’s other physical therapist, Ashlee McLeod, work to evaluate the individual students’ abilities and needs, and then the three women work to meet those needs.
“If walking unassisted is too taxing, maybe we’ll try a crutch or a walker,” Wise said. “We have had some success with power wheelchairs; a student used a head array to steer the wheelchair down the hallway. We are trying to find what works for them so that they can utilize their day how it works best for them. We had a child that drove a wheelchair with his foot, because everything else was too involved. Even though it is a school setting and things are somewhat limited for us, we have seen some interesting things over the years.”
One story that sticks with Wise is a child who therapists where unsure if he would be able to walk at all.
“He is now in middle school, and he walks with a cane,” Wise said. “Sometimes it can take years to see a little thing, so you can get a little discouraged, but that one thing happens, and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh! He got it. He got.’”