Another International Therapy Experience From One of Our Own

Posted on October 4th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

Another International Therapy Experience

From One of Our Own


Denise Koonce OTR

A few blogs back I discussed the opportunities and benefits of using your therapy skills and knowledge outside of your own country.  Also in a previous blog we had two therapists from Reach Therapy Center share their experiences in international therapy service.  In that blog I mentioned we had another therapist who has used her skills as a physical therapist multiple times on international trips.  She has the added benefit of being bilingual in English and Spanish.  When you communicate in the primary language of the country in which you are traveling, you add an opportunity for greater understanding by the local people.  Hearing information in your own language from the expert themselves heightens, improves, and provides a greater bridge for information to flow and therefore a greater acceptance of what that information can do, help or change in their community.  

Florence Thillet-Bice PT, DPT, MA, PCS has been a physical therapist for over 40 years and has worked at Reach Therapy Center for the last 5 of those years.  She has a plethora of knowledge and is always willing to share it with others.   Florence has participated internationally with an organization called Helping Hands Medical Missions,  They try to complete up to 10 medical mission trips a year to areas in Mexico, Central and South America, Philippines, and Ghana.  Here are some excerpts from her experiences abroad:

“I have gone to the region of Sonsonate in the north-western part of El Salvador.  We are there for approximately 8 days.  The Helping Hands Medical Missions works along with the local Catholic Church to provide medical mission clinics in their community.  There are three small towns in which we provide these clinics.  We also go to the community hospital in Sonsonate.  In addition, this year we will be going to one of the hospitals in the capital, San Salvador.  The local church tries to register patients ahead of our visit but if others show up, no one is turned away.  We provide services to both children and adults every day during our stay until sunset and sometimes later than that.  The clinics can be either inside the building or outside under a tarp.  My role as a physical therapist is to perform a brief evaluation, provide the patients with exercises and help them learn how to use the donated medical equipment such as crutches, wheelchairs, canes and positioning devices.   I show the patients or caregivers how to work with the children or adults in need of therapy.   I give patients basic exercise programs with pictures for them to do at home and show them how to use ice or heat if needed.  I have also worked in the hospital teaching local therapists how to work with a variety of diagnoses.   I have shown them day-to-day exercises they can show the parents and treatment interventions the therapists can provide in clinic.   I am fluent in Spanish and therefore I am able to help with translations during basic triage.  I have also assisted doctors/nurses with wound care and respiratory care.  This mission trip is not solely medically related but it helps with the success of the entire mission trip.  Last year we saw close to 3000 patients including multiple surgeries.

Many people we serve don’t know how to read or write and we have to be creative in what avenue we use to provide them with medical information.  Many do not have electricity or running water in their houses so we give them basic simple activities they can do with items they may have within their environment such as ice from the large chunks of ice they use to keep their food cold.  I must say it is a rewarding and humbling experience that makes me very grateful of what I am and what we have here in the US.”

We truly are fortunate here in the United States of America.  Once again, if you have participated in international therapy service please share your moving story with us.

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