Animals help therapy patients recover

Published 7:16 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Clinical Director Lori Miller (left), physical therapy aid Lindsay Hollis and Paco the therapy dog (far left) help patients at Chilton Physical Therapy in Clanton.

Clinical Director Lori Miller (right) allows Eli Jackson to play with Paco the therapy dog during his physical therapy session at Chilton Physical Therapy in Clanton on Wednesday.

As Chilton Physical Therapy Clinical Director Lori Miller started working with 17-month-old Eli Jackson on strengthening his leg and core muscles Wednesday morning, her therapy dog named Paco nestled down next to Jackson, waiting for his attention.

By reaching out his arms to pet and play with Paco, Jackson unknowingly did some of the movements Miller wanted him to do as part of his physical therapy.

“When he’s here and petting this dog, he’s moving and he’s shifting his weight,” Miller said of Jackson. “He’s a child. I want him to play.”

Allowing Jackson and other patients to interact with Paco is just one of Miller’s methods of helping people relearn muscle movement, regain balance, recuperate from an injury or surgery, relieve soreness and pain from arthritis, and more through physical therapy.

“Here, we really specialize in individualized care plans,” Miller said. “I really listen to my patients and find out what their needs are.”

Jackson was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent six months lying in a hospital bed as he underwent multiple surgeries to try to remove the tumor.

He is going through physical therapy with Miller to build muscle strength in order to master movements such as crawling and walking on his own.

“Coming out of surgery, he was like a newborn,” Jackson’s grandmother, Cheryl Jackson, said. “He’s got a way to go, but he’s come a long way. It’s just going to take time.”

Wednesday was Jackson’s second therapy session with Miller, who said she saw improvement in his movement from the first session to the second.

Miller has a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Florida Gulf Coast University and a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine-Athletic Training from the University of Central Florida.

She is a certified licensed athletic trainer and a certified strength and conditioning coach for all sports.

Miller is approaching her one-year anniversary of becoming clinical director at Chilton Physical Therapy, which she said has been open for five years.

“I have been here since May, and I’m staying,” Miller said.

Miller specializes in sports medicine and orthopedics, balance and gait training, pediatrics, stroke and spinal cord injuries and neurological rehabilitation.

“We don’t just do exercise here,” Miller said. “We deal with musculoskeletal systems and the science of movement. People need to know why they’re doing the exercises they’re doing.”

Miller said she became a physical therapist because she wanted to provide better care to people than she received when she went through physical therapy for an injury years ago.

“I was unhappy with the services I got,” Miller said. “Physical therapy is a skilled service. We are not personal trainers. We are not supposed to send you to a corner of the gym and tell you to exercise.”

Prior to going back to school for physical therapy, Miller was a tennis professional, owner and operator of Megamind Electronics and a design engineer, project manager and departmental director at Lockheed Missiles and Space Operations, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida.

Miller served as student athletic trainer at Additional Professional Sports Internships in Orlando, Fla.; head athletic trainer at Cocoa Expo Center in Cocoa, Fla.; head athletic trainer for the Florida Fire Cats, LLC (professional arena football) in Estero, Fla.; and even served as a strength and conditioning coach and athletic trainer assistant-student intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for one year.

Lindsay Hollis, Miller’s physical therapy aid and office manager, answers the office phone, schedules appointments, handles paperwork, sterilizes equipment and assists Miller as she works with patients throughout the day.

“She helps me in my busy time because I do a lot of one-on-one care,” Miller said. “We work together very well to get that accomplished. I want to keep everybody moving and have them get what they honestly need.”

In the office, patients have access to exercise equipment including bicycles, balls and resistance bands, as well as electrical stimulation machines that help reduce soreness and swelling by sending an electrical current through muscles to cause them to contract.

Miller guides patients through exercises and assesses their individual needs during their therapy session to determine what methods of therapy to employ.

“We try to relate the whole nervous system into what the body’s doing, and exercise is a component of it as well as education,” Miller said. “We want you to ask questions and encourage people to be proactive in their healthcare.”

Antonia Staffney of Clanton underwent therapy Wednesday for arthritis in one of her knees.

Before Staffney left, Miller applied a form of kinesio tape to her knee and parts of her leg to “allow the muscles to fire at the correct time to avoid injury and allow the lower extremity to work as it should biomedically.”

Staffney said she started coming to Chilton Physical Therapy about three weeks ago after her orthopedic doctor gave her a physical therapy referral.

“I don’t hurt a whole lot now,” Staffney said. “It’s really been helping.”

Miller also offers equine services to help patients with balance.

“Gate cycles of horses stimulate the vestibular system, or balance system, that must work for them to move,” Miller said.

Her neighbor allows her to house her ponies on his land, and Miller’s son assists her with the ponies when patients come for therapy sessions.

Chilton Physical Therapy is located at 1013 Lay Dam Road in Clanton.

It is open Monday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, call (205) 280-4565.