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Community-focused care

Aspirus Keweenaw Occupational Therapy offers patients solutions

August 5, 2009
The Daily Mining Gazette

LAURIUM - After illness, injury or surgery, it is important to regain strength and independence so that you can get back to your normal everyday activities. That's where occupational therapy comes in, Tiffany Paavola said.

"When strength and skill cannot be developed or improved, occupational therapy offers solutions and alternatives for carrying out normal daily activities," she said. "What we do is take a look at the whole picture - what do they need to do in their daily activities and how can we get them back there."

Paavola is one of three licensed occupational therapists at Aspirus Keweenaw's Laurium rehab center, each with their own specializations. As an occupational therapist, Paavola said she is skilled in evaluating and treating patients with disabling conditions stemming from any number of problems. Additionally, she said each of the staff members is certified in a number of specialty areas including hand therapy and lymphedema diagnosis and treatment.

Article Photos

Aspirus Keweenaw occupational therapists Beth Mull, at right, and Tiffany Paavola demonstrate how to measure one’s grip strength using a dynamometer.

Lymphedema, she said, is a particular type of edema (swelling) resulting from a disruption of the lymphatic system that when left untreated, can cause pain and limit mobility.

"Your lymphatic system is what takes care of the fluids in the body," Paavola explained. "If these fluids get backed up or there's an overabundance and the body can't keep up with it, we're certified to drain that fluid to kick-start the body and make sure the body can take care of it."

Individuals who have undergone surgery, radiation therapy, lymph node removal or scarring from infection should be particularly watchful for excessive swelling.

"A lot of times, patients will have lymphedema and not even know," said occupational therapist Beth Mull.

Individuals who have undergone a mastectomy are also at risk for lymphedema, Paavola said, because the procedure oftentimes disrupts the fluid pathways.

"What we can do is reroute the fluids so they can be more functional," she said.

For example, if patients have a hand injury, Mull said they perform a lymphatic drainage technique to reduce the swelling and facilitate healing.

"You definitely want someone certified doing that kind of treatment because you can really cause problems and increase the swelling if you don't do it right," she said.

Paavola added, "There can even be an increase in cardiac symptoms if you're not careful."

Paavola said while both she and Mull do treat hands, Sharon Fisher, who is the director of occupational therapy, is the center's certified hand therapist.

"A hand therapist deals specifically with all the things pertaining to the hand," Paavola said. "She is the expert. When you have a complicated hand diagnosis, she is the one who oversees your care."

Fisher is also certified in neurodevelopmental therapy, Paavola said.

"That's for someone who has suffered a stroke or anything neurological that happens in the body," she said.

Aspirus Keweenaw Occupational Therapy offers outpatient services at both its Houghton and Laurium locations. Inpatient treatment is available at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital. More recently, they're offering home health.

"We're partnered with Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health and Hospice," Mull said, adding she's new to the home health service but finds its enjoyable. "We can follow our patients and guide their treatment more closely. I think that's really nice."

Paavola said one thing she likes about Aspirus is that they promote what the community wants.

"If the community needs are based on an area of specialty, then we will get certified in that area," she said. "Having these specializations, I think, puts us in a position to help the community more."

In order to receive occupational therapy, patients must have a referral from a physician. Patients can also advocate for themselves.

"If they feel they can't get dressed or are having a hard time getting in and out of the bathtub, they can contact their doctor for a referral," Mull explained. "Then their doctor can say whether they should have outpatient or what level of treatment it should be."

Mull said they can also treat children with sensory integration problems.

"Sensory integration is the body's ability to process the environment through the senses," she said. "If that's not fully developed and if there's too many things coming in from the environment all at once, the body doesn't know how to handle it."

For example, she said, it's like walking out to your car at night in the dark with no other cars or lights.

"You feel your heart start to beat faster," she said. "We have techniques and things that we can do to help calm that system and to give them activities to help integrate."

Aspirus Keweenaw Occupational Therapy is located on Hecla Street in Laurium and on Sharon Avenue in Houghton. For more information, call 337-7000, 482-8201 or visit

Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Aspirus Keweenaw Occupational Therapy of Laurium and Houghton. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.



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