Life Care truly appreciates each of our Champions of Care, and since October is Physical Therapy Month, we thought it would be fitting to honor our amazing physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.
Physical therapists help patients recover from illness or injury. They address issues with strength (especially lower-body strength), mobility, balance and range of motion.
Meet four of our outstanding PTs around the country!
Heather Oakley, regional rehab director, River Region
Heather serves as a support to the rehabilitation teams in the River Region, which serves Life Care’s facilities in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky. She has been a physical therapist for 22 years and has been with Life Care for more than 15 years, in her regional role and, before that, serving at Life Care Center of Columbia, Tennessee. She started as a PRN physical therapist when her children were small and worked her way up to her current role.
“The biggest reason I wanted to get into physical therapy was to help people,” Heather shared. “At first I was leaning toward sports medicine, but when I set foot in a nursing home, I thought, ‘Nope – this is my why.’ I love improving our patients’ independence to the point of allowing them to return home.”
Heather’s advice for new PTs is to look at things from the patient’s perspective as well as their own.
“Always get to know the patient you’re treating,” Heather said. “Listen to them. Learn from them.”
Heather’s favorite part of her job is not only teaching and growing the rehab staff in her facilities but getting to spend time with the patients and share the facilities’ success stories in their communities.
Every goal met is a success.
“We had one patient that had a lot of different co-morbidities that really impacted her ability to walk,” Heather shared. “She wanted to be able to walk to the bathroom. We worked with her and came up with some modifications to help her do that safely.”
Heather has advanced her skills in the PT field as well.
“She is wound care certified, previously provided dementia specialty education with CEUs for all the Eastern Division and is a great example of Life Care culture,” said John Fischer, division director of rehab.
When asked which historical figure she would most like to meet, Heather replied, “I think the coolest person to meet would be the apostle Paul, to ask him questions about his ministry and his journeys.”
Henry Hotin, physical therapist, Life Care Center of Leominster, Massachusetts
Henry has been a physical therapist for 43 years. He has experience in not only skilled nursing and rehab centers but also in private practice. He has worked at Life Care Center of Leominster for 16 years and loves working with his team there.
“Physical therapy is trying to understand what people’s impediments are and trying to devise procedures that can help them regain their mobility, regain their strength, regain their confidence,” Henry shared. “The most rewarding part of my job is to take one of these challenging patients and get them better and get them home.”
Henry is well respected by his co-workers and his supervisor, Pamela Walls, director of rehab services.
“I have 24 years of experience, and I feel like a new grad sometimes around him,” said Pamela. “He is an amazing PT, but he is also an amazing person. He has such kindness and would help anyone. He even helped another Life Care building on Christmas Eve to do an evaluation. He is always there to save the day!”
Henry’s advice for new physical therapists is, “We’re practicing in challenging times. Stick to your knowledge about what works for your patients. You need to be kind of a tough clinician and be goal-centered and be as concise as you can be in your documentation.”
Over his years in practice, Henry has seen some amazing recoveries, including one family member of an associate who he considered to be a miracle.
“He came to us deathly sick,” Henry remembered. “He had a colostomy, a large wound, a GI tube, a trach. He had encephalopathy and was confused and trying to pull out the tubes. When I evaluated him, I thought he wouldn’t last the week. Well, we worked with him, and he was here for a year. It was the whole team working with him, and his determination. He literally went home and was able to tend his garden and everything. He was definitely a triumph for us.”
For his historical figure, Henry chose Abraham Lincoln.
“He was a very intelligent guy, and he always tried to be fair,” Henry shared. “He did what he felt was right for our nation.”
Marcelo “Eloi” Ablaza, physical therapist, Life Care Center of Melbourne, Florida
Eloi has been a PT since 2001, graduating from PT school in the Philippines in 2000. He came to the United States in 2010 and started as a physical therapist at Life Care Center of Palm Bay, Florida, in September 2011.
But he started his high school years assuming nursing would be his career.
“Nursing is the predetermined path for a Filipino trying to get to the United States,” Eloi explained. “But then physical therapy was so in demand. I couldn’t decide. I took two pieces of paper and wrote ‘nursing’ and ‘physical therapy’ on them, and I picked up the one for physical therapy. I think the Lord Himself guided me to be a PT.”
Eloi has never looked back. He earned a doctoral degree in physical therapy in 2019 while working full time.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “You have to put your heart and mind into your chosen career path. And now my nephew says, ‘I want to be a physical therapist like you.’”
Eloi finds it very rewarding when patients recover and return home, and also when they simply come and sit beside him and talk to him.
“It’s really meaningful when they tell you that you did a good job,’” Eloi said. “All those tiny little comments are very rewarding.”
Eloi is a certified wound care specialist and also serves as a clinical instructor for PT and PTA students.
“Eloi has mentored many PT/PTA students in clinical rotations to share his expertise and passion for the geriatric population,” said Kim Jordon, director of rehab service at Life Care Center of Melbourne. “He is an exceptional employee and one who can be counted on to go above and beyond to meet the needs of all he serves.”
Eloi’s advice to new physical therapists is to keep learning.
“Read and find materials like journals to learn fresh and evidence-based approaches,” he said. “Feed yourself with knowledge.”
If Eloi could meet a historical figure, it would be Pope John Paul II.
“I was raised in a Catholic country, and when I was a kid, I would look at his picture,” Eloi shared. “I would see his face as a caring person, and that instilled in me as a kid how to treat other people.”
Thomas “Tommy” Florek, assistant director of rehab services, Life Care Center of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Tommy graduated from PT school in 2018 and has been working at Life Care Center of Colorado Springs ever since.
His interest in the field began when his grandmother with Parkinson’s disease benefitted from physical therapy.
“I always knew I wanted to work in the health care field and help people,” he said, “and that lit the spark. I love seeing the patients progress and get to the point they were before they needed rehab. I love seeing them get back to their lives.”
Tommy summed up physical therapy this way: “We work on strength and balance in order to help a person function better.”
And even though he’s fairly new to the PT world, Tommy is already making his mark.
“Tommy is a strong clinician,” said Lori Whitney, senior division rehab director for Life Care’s Western States. “He led the way to telehealth in our division and is so committed to taking on students to help prepare the next generation of PTs.”
Although telehealth has become more common with doctors’ visits and other medical sessions, there are uses for it in the therapy field as well. During the pandemic, Tommy and other therapists were able to do some evaluations and treatment sessions over an iPad during new patients’ required isolation period, and even help other local Life Care buildings evaluate new patients that way.
“It is a little different because obviously it’s not hands-on,” Tommy shared. “But I enjoyed the fact that I could help out the buildings and help out the patients so they could be seen sooner.”
As a sports fan, Tommy chose Muhammad Ali as his inspiring historical figure.
“He was really big in boxing, of course, but he also used his platform to advantage to work toward equality.”
Thank you to these team members and all our amazing physical therapy professionals. You inspire our patients, and our associates, every day!