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Physical therapy students and local women amputees assist each other

Shannon Jenkins, of Somerset, lets out a laugh while holding her balance with the aid of Chatham University physical therapy graduate student Brandon Maharaj. Maharaj was one of several physical therapists on hand to help evaluate women amputees.
Shannon Jenkins, of Somerset, lets out a laugh while holding her balance with the aid of Chatham University physical therapy graduate student Brandon Maharaj. Maharaj was one of several physical therapists on hand to help evaluate women amputees.

For the past eight years, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Melissa L. Bednarek, PT, DPT, PhD has been taking students in Chatham’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program to De La Torre Orthotics and Prosthetics to learn about upper extremity amputations.

This year, De La Torre approached Melissa about co-hosting a free event that provides Pittsburgh-area women amputees with an opportunity for connection and education.

And so it was that on October 21, over 25 women came to the event at Chatham’s Eastside location where they met some Chatham physical therapy students and alumni, De La Torre staff, and—crucially—each other. The event allowed participants to assess their mobility challenges and to share their joys and struggles with fellow amputees.

Medicare, Medicaid, and many other health insurance companies determine an amputee’s eligibility for coverage of prosthetics based on that individual’s K-level. The K-level reflects the degree of (and potential for) the individual’s mobility, and is determined by a series of tasks often conducted by physical therapists.

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The event was not to definitively determine the participants’ K-levels, but rather to provide some motivation, says Bednarek. “We took them through the tasks they’d need to do, and said ‘Okay, here’s what you’re scoring right now; if you’re looking to have a more expensive device covered, maybe think about these types of activities to help you improve your current level.’”

I had such a great time working with each participant and was honored to hear each of their stories! I was particularly inspired and humbled by their attitudes and outlook on their life’s path.” – Jill Claassen, DPT ’17

There was another goal, too: “sneaking in” some physical therapy, laughs Bednarek. “We wanted to give these women not just a chance to learn and connect, but also get them up and moving on a Saturday afternoon.”

The Chatham University Physical Therapy Program educates Doctors of Physical Therapy who will advance the quality of human life through excellence in clinical practice. The Program prepares professionals to meet the challenges of a dynamic health care environment and supports faculty scholarship that bridges science and practice.