A few words from Susan Calise


A Few Words from Susan Calise!


As a PT (physical therapist) who had been practicing for over 20 years now, it is always a novel experience when I teach PT students about SCI. I have a different approach since not only have I specialized in SCI rehab but I live with it as well. My husband is a T6 paraplegic, who was injured 19 years ago during a mountain bike ride. I know it is a tragic thing and I have seen so many individuals and their families devastated by the effects, however, I always try to impart the importance of independence and a positive outlook on my students. Many people will look at someone with paralysis and automatically think, sympathetically, “poor boy” or “what a shame.” I want my students to leave my class thinking that there are no limits and that each person is an individual and we need to be aware of that individual’s full potential.

I usually start each class with a film trailer of the movie “Murderball”. It grabs their attention. After the clip ends I like to ask them what neurological level they think the players are and they inevitably answer “paraplegic”. When I tell them that one needs to have a cervical injury (above T1) to play quad rugby (murderball) they are usually incredulous. The same thing happens when we go through our labs and practice mat/bed mobility. I usually demonstrate different techniques for getting up from lying down or moving on a mat or going from the floor to a wheelchair and again they cannot believe it is possible for someone with a spinal cord injury to move that way. It is not until I have one of my old patients demonstrate or show them an old video clip that they finally believe it is true.

Lastly, I feel it is so important to be open to learning from our patients. Although we teach specific techniques in class that utilize body mechanics, momentum and leverage, it is not the only way to do it. Sometimes a patient will totally surprise me with a technique that does not make sense to me, but works well for them. I remember when I first met Alan Brown. It was many years ago and he was working on walking with the Argo braces with his therapist, Katie. It is usually rare for a person with a higher-level injury (cervical level) to work on gait training at all. But Alan was different. He made it his goal and, as difficult as it was, he did it each time he came to outpatient physical therapy. Katie never told him he couldn’t do it…. I learn from my husband Victor as well. He never sets limits on himself. Maybe we cannot go to the new trendy restaurant that was built in a townhouse with a flight of stairs at the entrance, but there are not many things he cannot do.

And that is the point I try to get across to my students. Push your patient where you can, know when to let up, keep things realistic, and show them the potential they have to lead an interesting and fulfilling life. I think by the end of the class, they get it.