January 2010

Hilton Head Occupational Therapy: Where Hope Happens

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Stephanie Lipscomb

Imagine living in a recliner for six months. While that might sound relaxing, it was anything but for Jeannette Donnelly of Walterboro, whose recliner was her prison cell from May-November of 2009. Overweight and suffering with multiple infirmities, she could not walk or even sleep in a normal bed.

It was a lump in her groin area that sent Donnelly to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with lymphedema—an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling, most often in the arm(s) and/or leg(s), and occasionally in other parts of the body. After a round of antibiotics and traditional physical therapy which did not significantly improve her well-being, she did some sleuthing on the Internet to learn more about her condition. That’s where she found local occupational therapist and nationally certified lymphedema specialist, Dr. Madeline Chatlain. With a referral from her doctor, in August, she made the appointment that would change her life. Thanks to the treatment she has received from Dr. Chatlain at Hilton Head Occupational Therapy, Donnelly was able to travel to Santee State Park where she enjoyed Thanksgiving Day with family and friends who were camping there.

“This morning, I walked about 14 steps with a walker, which for me is an improvement. I can at least spend a few hours in bed now in the evening, and the swelling is down so that I can put on a pair of shoes,” said Donnelly.

Fellow lymphedema sufferer, Diana Brown, whose neurologist referred her to Chatlain, shares a similar story. “I went to one other physical therapist, with no results. But I went to Madeline, and after four weeks of treatment, it’s down. I’m in compression garments 24/7 (that’s something I have to do all my life). But for now, it is gone. I’m so glad I found Madeline. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

Sun City resident, Kate Conte, visited Dr. Chatlain for a different kind of problem: chronic back pain. “I had a shoulder problem at the time,” said Conte. “Madeline showed me what to do. It was wonderful. Then I told her about my back. She said, ‘What do you mean you’ve got something wrong with your back? You’ve got something wrong with your feet.’ She pointed out to me where my left leg turns out to the left. She showed me exercises to get my big toes aligned, explaining that the problem comes from my feet up to my back.”

With education, stretches, the right exercises and proper footwear, Conte is feeling like her old self again. “I’m like a new person!” she said.

Dr. Madeline Chatlain is an occupational therapist who specializes in complete decongestive therapy and myofascial trigger point therapy, with an emphasis on patient education. While it is not her job to diagnose or “fix” the underlying condition, she offers hope—and help—for people suffering from lymphedema and people who are in pain.

“It’s about helping patients heal themselves and putting them on the most logical, sequential path to do that. Breaking the pain cycle is only the beginning. We work with patient to analyze what they are doing in their daily life (mechanical, nutritional, psychological) that perpetuates the pain cycle,” said Chatlain. “Our approach is somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Monk. We are investigators and problem solvers, trying to find what small or large factor is eluding our patient’s success and correct it.”

Using state-of-the-art equipment along with her knowledge, experience and critical assessment skills, Chatlain tailors a program specifically for each patient. “Everything here is highly personalized. You give me the three most important things you want to do that you can’t do now, and I’ll give you the information and resources to help you do it,” she said. “No exercises are mass produced. I take pictures of you. You actually have a notebook customized to you.”

“What I like about Madeline is that she treats what you have now, but she’s also looking ahead to make sure that you understand why you got it, how you can avoid getting it and what you can do right now. So it’s past, present and future,” said Donnelly.

“Madeline looks at you as a whole lifestyle. She taught me how to sit properly, how to sleep in a correct position and how to get up and out of bed in the morning, how to open a door… its small things that make the difference,” said Brown. “This weekend, it was wonderful to feel semi-normal again with my back. I’m biking again!”

“That’s the beauty of occupational therapy. It brings it to the real world. It’s not about coming in here and doing 15 sit ups,” said Chatlain. “It’s a top down to bottom up approach. You’ve got a diagnosis out here. I can give you information to help you deal with it so we meet it in the middle.”

Because of the extensive time and energy she invests in each patient, Chatlain sets some strict standards. Her patients concur that her program works when they do.

“If she tells you to do something, you better do it,” said Donnelly, with a chuckle.

“She knows what she’s doing,” added Conte.

“Yes, she’s tough, but she’s a very caring person. She’ll do anything to help you, but don’t waste her time. You’ve gotta be motivated,” said Brown.

“The number one modus operandi is personal responsibility. I can only have X amount of people a day, so I want those people to want to get better,” explained Chatlain. “If they’re onboard with that, then the sky’s the limit.”

If you are in pain or if physical limitations are interfering with activities of daily living, Chatlain encourages you to ask your doctor for a referral. “People will sit out there doing nothing because they think there’s no hope or they think it’s their fault,” she said. “Whatever your condition is, there’s hope for you. If I don’t have the answers, I can help you find them.”

Hilton Head Occupational Therapy is located at 29 Plantation Park, Suite 502,
Bluffton, SC.29910. For more information, call (843) 757-9292 or visit online at lymphedematreatment.com.

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