What is your role at VSK?
For someone who might not understand what this means, can you briefly explain?
In general, paediatric physiotherapists have skills in managing children with a wide range of conditions which affect their physical development and health, mobility and ability to participate in everyday activities.
What’s unique about your role?
At Very Special Kids, I am able to use a wide variety of skills and knowledge. Physiotherapy is individualised according to each child’s needs, these can vary greatly from child to child, and from one admission for a child to their next admission. With a maximum of eight children staying in our hospice at any time, I am able to spend time getting to know children during their admission – their personality, their abilities, their challenges. I am able to work intensively with children if required.
The opportunity to collaborate with Pip (Music therapy), Shari (Child Life therapy) and Svett (Art therapy) is unique and wonderful, enabling richer experiences for children. Creativity enhances physical outcomes, physical activities have greater purpose, and motivation is higher. Similarly, calmness and tranquillity aid relaxation and comfort – this is so valuable during respiratory (breathing) physiotherapy treatments, massage and gentle stretching for maintaining flexibility, and relieving stiffness and pain.
What do you love about your role?
First and foremost, I love working so closely with all the hospice staff and volunteers in caring for our very special children. I also love working with the Family Support Team, who not only have a wealth of knowledge but show such warmth and empathy for the children and their families. I love that physiotherapy is valued at Very Special Kids, and that the hours have already been increased, which shows how well received it’s been. Our collection of equipment is steadily growing – soft play equipment, corner chairs and table, Scooot and the TRAM (a transfer and mobility aid, used for transferring children and assisted walking) which is largely due to fantastic support from our fundraising team. This continually broadens the possibilities for physiotherapy treatment.
What does a usual day look like?
My day begins with reviewing children’s files and checking in with staff about any changes overnight. My highest priority for physiotherapy is always respiratory management for any children who have breathing challenges. Following this almost anything can happen! I could be involved in some or all of the following on a daily basis.
1. Assisting with transferring children from bed to wheelchair or any other piece of equipment.
2.Ensuring children are positioned in the best possible way whether this is to optimise breathing, prevent deformity, enable participation in activity, provide comfort or for pressure care.
3. Ensuring splints are put on correctly and used appropriately
4. Working on gross motor skills – tummy time, rolling, creeping, crawling, sitting, standing, cruising, walking, climbing – this may well look like play time on the floor or in the soft play area or outside in the garden
5. Monitoring and adjusting equipment – Allen keys and screw drivers are never too far away!
6. Gentle stretching and flexibility
7. Music and movement group
8. Ball games, obstacle courses
9. Spending time to just be with the children.
What’s your background prior to VSK?
I began my career at Gippsland Base Hospital as a Grade 1 physiotherapist – a fantastic country hospital where I had the opportunity to work in ICU, general medical, surgical, ante natal, post-natal, paediatrics, community and outpatients all in the space of 15 months. I was lured back to Melbourne by a job at the Royal Children’s’ Hospital and have worked in paediatrics ever since. My role at the RCH enabled me to work across a wide range of specialty areas.
I have also worked at Glenroy Special School as a Grade 2 Physiotherapist, and continued to work at RCH on weekends in ICU and Respiratory Medicine. I have been involved as a research physiotherapist in some projects through RCH and MCRI, investigating outcomes for children with cerebral palsy and preterm infants.
Prior to my role at Very Special Kids, I worked at Children’s Physiotherapy – a private practice – for 14 years. Being able to work with children with complex disabilities at the practice, in children’s homes, child care centres, kinders, schools, local playgrounds and hydrotherapy pools broadened my experience and understanding of the lives of these children and their families immensely. To share the journey of some of these children and families for more than a decade has been an absolute privilege.
What is it that gets you out of bed every morning to come to work?
It’s the same every morning! The possibility of spending time with our very special children, and the hope of making their day just a little bit better.
What’s been a highlight during your time at VSK?
It’s hard to name just one!
A beautiful boy who needs chest physiotherapy as part of his daily routine almost always smiles through our time together. Whether it’s because he knows he feels better afterwards, whether it’s that he enjoys the rhythmical patting on his chest, or whether it’s that he enjoys the 1 to 1 interaction we have, his smile makes my day.
Sitting on the floor with a child, practicing sitting balance, when his mum arrived she was so surprised – she didn’t know he was able to sit unsupported!
Another magical moment was assisting a very young girl lying on her side close to Olive – the therapy dog. This little girl actively reached out to touch Olive, one of the first times she had initiated movement! Another beautiful moment with this little girl was sitting her in a corner chair so she could play and interact, particularly with her mum. There were a few tears of joy from several of us – previously mum had always sat behind this little girl on the floor to support her, but with the corner chair, they were able to sit face to face to play and chat.
And just this week, assisting a teenage boy to stand and walk outside in the sunshine using the TRAM. This boy LOVES music, and with Pip’s beautiful singing and guitar playing, he managed to take some steps and then began to dance on his tip toes!
What’s your top child health or development tip?
Just keep moving whatever way you can!
How important is allied health within palliative care?
Physiotherapy can assist children to maintain whatever level of mobility, independence and function is possible at all stages of their life. Minimising pain and deformity and ensuring comfort through supportive positioning, gentle movement and massage are priorities.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in Melbourne and feel strong ties to Very Special Kids’ location in Glenferrie Rd. My parents were married at St George’s church across the road in 1968, and Paul and I married there also in 1995. I’m the middle child of 3 girls, and am very proud of my 2 sisters – Anna and Sarah – and never in a million years would I swap careers. Paul and I have three children – Meg is a Midwife, Andrew is studying Commerce/Science, and Juliette is finishing Year 11. We have a loveable Spoodle Toby who is sure he is human, and two chickens who lay very reliably! I love cooking and anything at all related to France, and particularly Paris. And, I’m a very proud Collingwood supporter!
And, finally, never in a million years would I swap careers.