Best-kept secret

Reprinted from the Gisborne Herald (abridged)- 31 October, 2014

Fighting back to more mobility and independence after a stroke, Len McCullough remembers meeting Jessie Akroyd early in his rehabilitation and wondering what she was up to. ‘‘She was assessing me and finding out what I needed. “He was right. That is exactly what the Tairawhiti District Heath occupational therapist was doing.

“Jessie must have studied me very well”, Mr McCullough says. “She was a very caring young lady, I can assure you. She has been very helpful, she’s been excellent, I could not have been in better hands. “Ms Akroyd returns the compliment.”Len is inspirational in his motivation and his drive to get to the next step.”

His response is joy to her ears. To get such positive feedback is great reward. Ms Akroyd always wanted to be involved in health and helping people. Watching a relative rehabilitate after a stroke gave her the idea of occupational therapy as a career. “Ours is such a little-known profession,” she says. “Occupational therapy is the best-kept secret for people recovering from illness or disability, whether it be physical or mental.”

There is often confusion between physiotherapy and occupational therapy. “Occupational therapy focuses on those everyday activities that we do as individuals, in families and within communities to bring meaning and purpose to our lives. We work with people to modify the environment, occupation or the way people do things, so they can live more independent and satisfying lives. We develop, improve, sustain, or restore independence to any person who has an injury, illness, disability or psychological dysfunction.”

Ms Akroyd says she has met patients who had experienced strokes, been in car accidents or suffered from neurological issues. They could be young, elderly or in-between. The benefit of working at a smaller health board is that she sees the entire spectrum of occupational therapy. She recalls cases such as an elderly widowed man who had never previously cooked a meal or a determined patient who had to learn functions such as making breakfast with the restricted use of an arm by “thinking of the sequences”. His eventual aim was to go to a video shop by himself and rent a DVD.