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An Inside Look At Spinal Cord Injury Physical Therapy

About 12,500 people will experience a spinal cord injury this year. How will physical therapy impact their lives? Amy Bratta, the spinal cord injury therapy manager at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, answers our questions about SCI rehabilitation.

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What sort of social support is provided to individuals who pursue inpatient physical therapy?

Here at Magee Rehabilitation, we collaborate on a multidisciplinary team that includes clinical neuropsychologists and an extensive peer support program for patients and families with individual and group options.


What technologies are available to promote independence for people with spinal cord injuries?

We try to give people opportunities to try equipment that will enable them to be more independent in their homes and communities. We have an amazing “Smartroom” that shows some of this new technology. Identifying the best technology tools to promote independence depends on understanding an individual’s mobility level and the funding that he or she has access to in order to continue using the tools at home.

HelpHOPELive: We’ll be taking a closer look at some of these cutting-edge modalities in a future Blog post. Stay tuned!


Which spinal cord injury support initiatives are you most excited about?

We’ve started a pilot SCI “medical home” program for injured individuals. There are similar models for people with chronic diseases, but very few available for people with spinal cord injuries. It’s an attempt to follow people closely after they leave inpatient rehabilitation and transition back to the community. The medical home multidisciplinary team provides proactive support and services to minimize medical complications and promote optimal health after a spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injury therapy is a fast-moving space in which professionals try to seek answers and tailor technological developments to individual needs. Stem cell research and other medical developments continue to give people hope that in the future we will have more answers than we have now.

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What is essential to success as a spinal cord injury physical therapist?

Collaboration is essential. We work closely on a multidisciplinary team to provide well-informed and complete support. We typically look for new team members who are self-motivated, willing to learn and invested in teamwork. There is a physical component to our work, but it is also very emotional. Working with individuals and their families after a traumatic injury can be an intense and rewarding experience.


What have you learned from the injured individuals you’ve worked with?

With each person that I’ve worked with, what stands out to me is the strength of the human spirit. A person going through trauma can and will deal with the outcome and move forward to the best of his or her ability. That applies to social and emotional transitioning as well as physical rehabilitation. Sometimes I truly feel that I’ve learned more from some of our patients than they have learned from me!

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When Penn State quarterback Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000, he had surgery, followed by 7 months of in- and outpatient services at Magee. What was it like working with Adam?

Adam is an extraordinary young man who came in with very little active movement initially. He was always very present, highly motivated, mentally tough and positive, and he carried that attitude not only into his own care and therapy but into the lives of others who were struggling with similar injuries. That’s the beauty of being here: people going through similar experiences can be there for each other. Adam is an exceptional example of giving back while pursuing personal rehabilitation.


What’s your favorite part of your job?

I like that my job is very dynamic. Every day is a little bit different. You have to adapt, even if you think you have a plan! I meet some incredible people. You walk in the door and see what other people are dealing with, and suddenly your problems or issues seem completely insignificant by comparison.

My work inspires me and gives me perspective. I appreciate the opportunity to serve people who have been through trauma and injury. Every day when I come to work, I feel like I still have a role in helping people to receive the best care they possibly can. It can be a very emotional job – but for us, working in this field means entering a very special place where we can make a significant and lasting impact on an individual’s life.

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We appreciate your time, Amy! Visit the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital website to learn more about Amy Bratta’s work.