by Traci Chapman, Staff Writer
For many people, dealing with an aggressive kind of cancer can drain the spirit and challenge the soul – it is physically grueling, emotionally draining, frightening, even isolating. But, for one employee at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital, that cancer made her courage, her heart and her dedication shine though.
Her name is Teresa Adkison, and her journey – and how she dealt with it – inspired more than just her coworkers, family and friends. It prompted the Oklahoma Hospital Association’s decision to honor the 55-year-old physical therapy assistant with one of its 2017 Spirit of Resilience Awards.
Adkison was an easy choice, said Lori Boyd, Children’s Center chief operating officer.
“The OHA spirit award focused on resilience this year, and there were many individuals at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital that came to mind, but Teresa stood out to the group because she exemplifies this in her own life and at work,” Boyd said. “Teresa is an employee that connects with the children on a meaningful level and helps them achieve their therapy goals, while sharing her experiences with them.”
Adkison’s connection with those children withstood her greatest challenge – a 2010 diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer, also found in her lymph nodes. Facing the disease head-on, Adkison decided to undergo bilateral mastectomies, afterword going through seven months of chemotherapy and another six-and-a-half weeks of radiation. Instead of focusing on her own struggles, however, Adkison worked full-time throughout the long months of post-surgery treatment – and learned something in the process, she said.
“I was really able to relate to what our patients were going through and what a struggle it is to want to get up every day when you are not feeling well,” Adkison said. “My patients were such an inspiration to me and made me realize that what I was battling did not even compare to what they were going through.”
That outlook was something that didn’t really surprise those who knew the Mustang woman, who has worked at The Children’s Center her entire 19-year physical therapy assistant career. In fact, even then, Adkison was a trail blazer – she was the first PTA the Bethany facility ever hired.
OHA’s Spirt of Resilience Award was something that overwhelmed Adkison, who believed – not surprisingly, Boyd said – other Center employees were more worthy. But, Adkison is exactly what the award is all about, OHA President Craig Jones said.
“These are the type of team members who, when they see problems, consistently work to solve them,” he said.
Adkison, who graduated in 1998 with an associates degree in applied science, has spent her career helping the Center’s patients overcome their problems and challenges. Her dedication shines through not only there, but also in the fact she has also, for almost all of those 19 years, doubled up her workload as an acute hospital PRN on the weekends.
During those years, Adkison has seen a lot of changes, including a recent major expansion that will allow the Bethany facility to treat even more children. But, no matter the changes, one thing is always constant, Adkison said – the children who inspire and touch her heart every day.
“I love working with the kids and watching the progress they make in rehab – but, I mostly love when the patients are strong enough to go home and be with their families again,” she said.
Physical therapy is, of course, one of the cornerstones of The Children’s Center’s mission. Adkison works with a physical therapist to make the PT’s goals for each patient a reality, whether that patient is dealing with a disability or is challenged by the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury or accident. These include things not necessarily considered the physical therapy, like wound care, and includes serial casting – a treatment that involves applying and removing a lightweight fiberglass cast over a period of time, in the process changing the angle of the cast to promote correct healing.
“We work on gross motor function, things like walking, strengthening, transfers, etc.,” Adkison said. I also assist with specialized equipment that a patient may require during their rehab stay or with our outpatient equipment clinic”
The Center’s rehabilitation area has a 19-patient capacity, and the number of staff working in it depends on how many children are utilizing that area at any given time, Adkison said. It’s a tight-knit group that works seamlessly to find the right path for each to take their treatment journey.
“I work with a fantastic and amazing group of nurses, from the APRNs and RNs to the CNAs,” Adkison said. “We have a multidisciplinary approach at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital, which offers the best care for our patients.”
That “amazing group” includes someone who always puts herself after others – be it coworkers, patients, family or friends, Boyd said. It’s just who Adkison is, and it’s one of the reasons she is such an integral part of the facility and she said she never plans to leave.
“I know it’s cliche, but I really wanted to help people,” Adkison said. “I came to The Children’s Center to observe a couple of PTs to see if this is the field for me – I immediately knew that this was where I wanted to be, and that physical therapy was what I wanted to do.”