April 5, 2012
This is what my daddy would have wanted
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
It was only her first week of occupational therapy school, but Stephanie Hood had good reason to drop out and head home to Guntown.
She had just gotten word that her father, Steve, a 28–year veteran of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, had died in a car crash during a high speed chase.
“We realized what a traumatic event it was for her,” said Christy Morgan, Ph.D, chairman of the Occupational Therapy Department for the University of Mississippi School of Health Related Professions in Jackson. “We told her if she needed some time, she could defer her admission. But she said: ‘No, ma’am. This is what my daddy would have wanted me to do.’ Staying was her way of honoring her father.”
It was also a way for Hood to give back to a profession that had helped her father recover from a previous accident. In March of 2008, Steve Hood suffered a severe brain injury when a tree limb crashed on his head while he was clearing some land. “We were told he wouldn’t use his right side. And he would probably never talk or be able to work,” Hood said.
But once Steve Hood transferred to Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, the family began to have hope—even though he was still barely aware of his surroundings. “It was really humbling and overwhelming what the Methodist Rehab staff could work with and the difference they could make,” Hood said.
She remembers returning to Methodist Rehab after a weekend break to find her father transformed. “It was like a light switch had turned on. He knew who he was and what had happened. It was night and day.”
Methodist Rehab’s nationally recognized brain injury program provides patients access to a variety of groundbreaking therapies and equipment. But Hood was most fascinated by the tried and true methods of occupational therapy – a field she felt she had a calling for.
“I job-shadowed an OT my senior year of high school and fell in love,” she said. “I like being able to help people accomplish the everyday things they struggle with. I would try to figure out what they were doing with my dad and how it was helping. It got me more interested.”
The experience also convinced Hood to make Methodist Rehab her top choice for her 12 weeks of Level Two field work. One of but two hospitals in the state accepted into the prestigious Council of Teaching Hospitals, Methodist Rehab trains about a dozen occupational therapy students a year.
Hood finished her three-month tenure at Methodist Rehab in March, and she says her time there had been bittersweet. “There were constant reminders of how my dad was when he was here,” she said. “He knew I got into therapy school, and he was so excited that I had gotten accepted. And he had looked forward to hearing my stories. I would think: Hey dad, I learned how to do this today, and you had to do this, too.”
Hood will graduate May 25, and it’s a given her dad would have been proud of her achievements.
“She has been an exceptional student and showed amazing perseverance and dedication,” Morgan said. “And she’ll be able to relate to people in a way others might not be able to. You can read case studies and try to understand, but when you live through it with someone you love and cherish, you can relate to it at such a different level.”
“One of her greatest strengths is her ability to empathize with patients and their families,” agreed Candace Raybon, the occupational therapist who trained Hood during her tenure at Methodist Rehab. “You’ve got to love people and want to make them better. And she’s definitely cut out for this service.”
Hood said she hopes to find a position in a hospital rehab setting. But regardless of where she is employed, she wants to be like the therapists who helped her dad. “They were all so very caring – not just for him, but for the family, as well,” she said. “I want to do for others what Methodist Rehab has done for my family. My dad would say: ‘God had those therapists take care of me.’ He knew it was a miracle recovery.”
In 2008, Stephanie Hood, left, and her twin sister, Stacie, were often by the side of their father, Steve, as he recovered from a brain injury at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Stephanie, an occupational therapy student at the University of Mississippi School of Health Related Professions, recently returned to Methodist to do her 12 weeks of Level Two field work before her May graduation. It was her way of giving back to the hospital and honoring her father, a Mississippi Highway Patrolman who died in the line of duty in May, 2009.
As part of her training for occupational therapy school, Stephanie Hood helped Methodist Rehabilitation Center patients like Mamie Nelson of Clinton recover abilities lost to injury or illness.