Jean Navin, senior physical therapist, Easterseals Will-Grundy Counties, Ill., always knew she wanted to work with children. After considering a career in physical or special education, she decided physical therapy would offer the best of both worlds.
Defined as the practice of preserving, developing and restoring physical function lost through injury, disease or other causes, physical therapy is used to relieve pain and promote fitness and health. Through such treatment modalities as massage, strengthening exercises, stretching and heat, physical therapy addresses problems in the muscles, joints, brain, nerves, heart, lungs and skin.
Since deciding on her career path, Navin has never looked back. After receiving her degree from Northwestern University, she immediately accepted a position with Easterseals, where she has worked for the past 24 years. Navin currently works with children of all ages and diagnoses, providing therapy both at Easterseals and in the community, through a contract with her local school district. "It's wonderful to experience this kind of variety in my client base," she explains. "At any given session I may be working with a 3-year-old or a high school student."
According to Navin, pediatric physical therapy is not just about working with kids, although she admits her clients are her passion; it is about giving parents and teachers the tools they need to further each child's progress outside of therapy. "People often don't understand that it's not just the half hour session I have with the child that changes him... if there is no follow through, there can be no significant change," she says. "Parents and teachers have to learn the most effective way to handle the kids, move them, work with them, so the kids can develop skills in the correct patterns at home, outside of therapy."
Through the years, Navin has seen her share of success stories, but is quick to comment that while changes may take place in a single session, they also can take years. Nevertheless, the little successes she is able to elicit on a regular basis are what make her job so gratifying. "Even little changes are extremely important in a child's life," she says. "Just to have a child who once could barely lift her head, keep it up long enough to interact with her family or play with a toy, that's what makes it all worthwhile."