Lisa Jenkins with Sujay Thomas
Many things have changed since Lisa Jenkins began working as the first physical therapist when Huguley Home Health agency opened its doors 25 years ago.
“When I started here I was young, single, skinny, and I had both boobs,” she said with a laugh. Her hair has recently grown back after breast cancer treatment including a mastectomy and chemotherapy, experiences which served to heighten her already strong sense of empathy for patients.
“It sure gives you a different perspective on things,” she said. “I had no idea it would be so emotional, to wake up when you’re totally disfigured, and know you’re never going to be the same again.”
Helping others return to normalcy is a motivation that fuels Mrs. Jenkins, particularly with patients like Sujay Thomas, a Burleson resident fighting muscular dystrophy.
Mr. Thomas, who was diagnosed with MD at the age of 12, depends on Mrs. Jenkins to help maintain his strength and flexibility.
“In case there’s some kind of cure in the future, I want to be at my best,” Mr. Thomas said.
While Mr. Thomas holds out hope for a long-term solution to MD, he also benefits from Mrs. Jenkins’ efforts in the here and now.
“After therapy I feel a little bit tired and sore, but I feel like I can do more afterwards,” Mr. Thomas said. “I’m more energetic.”
In addition to issues like arthritis and osteoporosis, MD causes atrophy. “If I don’t do anything, my muscles just tighten and contract,” Mr. Thomas said.
While Mr. Thomas has the benefit of attentive and caring parents, Mrs. Jenkins said that in other ways he’s typical of many patients who are isolated by their ailments.
“I’ve learned there are a lot of people out there that have no one,” she said, “and sometimes we’re their only contact with the outside world.”
Mrs. Jenkins is trying to help Mr. Thomas by collecting money for a vehicle with a lift that would enable him to pursue outside interests.
“That poor kid is bored out of his skull. He’d like to be in college, but he can’t get there,” Mrs. Jenkins said.
Mrs. Jenkins’ supervisor, Clinical Manager Desmond Freeman, said Mrs. Jenkins often goes to great lengths to help patients get the equipment they need.
“When she’s driving around, she keeps her eye on what folks set out on the curb,” Mr. Freeman said. “If she sees a commode chair, or a bath bench, or a walker, or something like that, she’ll stop and ask if she can have it.”
Mr. Freeman said Mrs. Jenkins keeps a collection of things in her garage that patients need but don’t have the insurance to cover.
“More than just money, she has invested a lot of herself in her patients over the years,” Mr. Freeman said.
A genuine affection for her clients is what has sustained her, Mrs. Jenkins said.
“Not too many people could have the same job for 25 years and still enjoy going to work every day,” she said. “I still like my job because I like my patients.”
While her enjoyment of people has stayed the same, other parts of the job have changed.
“When I started here I was the only physical therapist, and I had to do a lot of driving,” she said. Although she once ranged as far away as Keller, Waxahachie and Rio Vista, the growth of the Huguley Home Health staff to 40 people has enabled her to spend less time in the car.
“Most of my patients now are in the Burleson-Rendon-Crowley area,” she said.
Mrs. Jenkins said the need for home health care has grown as hospital procedures have changed.
“People used to stay in the hospital a lot longer,” she said. “Now they’re sending people home earlier and earlier, when they’re not totally ready to be on their own.”
For example, a patient who’s had knee surgery may need a lot of therapy before they’re ready to drive, or even just get in and out of a car, she said.
Many of the tools she uses in her treatments have improved dramatically over the course of her career, she said.
“When I started physical therapy, they didn’t have Velcro,” she said. Weights could only be strapped on legs and arms with leather straps that required tedious buckling and unbuckling with each use.
“Wheelchairs have changed; walkers have really changed. It used to be that you couldn’t even fold them up, but now they come with four wheels and a seat,” Mrs. Jenkins said.
“The equipment they have now just makes it so much easier for patients to function in their own home,” she added.
Seeing the challenges some people face helps her stay appreciative.
“It just makes me feel like I should never complain again for the rest of my life,” Mrs. Jenkins said.