August 6, 2009 |

Former Cheney resident earns doctorate in physical therapy

By DAVID TELLER

Staff Reporter

The initials DPT have a new meaning, especially to a former Cheney resident.

Sharon Hall earned the initials at the end of her name, DPT, when she received her doctorate in physical therapy from Boston University in January. She said she is especially grateful that she accomplished the academic feat debt free as she continued to work her current job while completing her degree.

Hall was born and raised in Cheney. She left the area while in high school and then began pursuing a degree at Walla Walla College. She also attended Eastern Washington University for a year before she married an Air Force service member, “and moved and moved and moved.”

In 1989 she earned her master's degree in physical therapy. She returned to Cheney in 1992 and started working at Sacred Heart Medical Center doing acute care physical therapy. Acute physical therapy is therapy that is ordered by a doctor while a patient is still in the hospital, usually for treatments like hip replacement, knee replacement or a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

While she worked there, she began therapy on “neurological diagnosis,” patients, which she said is rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries, stroke patients, people the multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gherig's disease. It was neurological diagnosis where Hall found her calling.

“I really enjoy having a challenging work environment,” she said, adding that neurological therapy is the most challenging. She has been doing it ever since she started. She worked at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center for 15 years when her life went in a new direction.

Hall began teaching at EWU. She said a lot of the younger students look up to people that are educated with a wealth of experience. The people she taught were doctorate students when she realized the next step.

“I guess I better get my own,” Hall said.

Hall earned her doctorate via the Internet, though she was required on occasion to physically attend Boston University. She said the biggest challenge was time management as she was working 60 to 70 hours a week while trying to complete her course of study, which included a dissertation on neurological disorder – patients in respiratory dysfunction.

“(My family and friends) never saw me for two years,” Hall said.

Now that she has her doctorate, and is licensed to treat patients, she is also working to undermine some common myths about spinal cord injuries. She said most people think quadriplegics can't move, they're not employable, they can't live alone and they can't even drive a car.

“My job is to make sure they can do all of those things,” Hall said.

She said their ability depends on where the vertebra is broken. If the very top vertebra in the neck is broken, then there is a very good possibility that person would need assisted living. If the break is lower on the neck, Hall said the victim has the potential to live independently.

Another devastating injury is the brain stem. She said most people have what is called “locked in” syndrome, which is where the brain is normal but the person cannot communicate.

In the future she may also see patients privately and treat and bill them for her services in what called direct access. She said she would like to cut her work schedule back and possibly go on a lecture tour and even learn from colleagues.

“I've always had a desire to learn more than I know,” Hall said.

David Teller can be reached at dteller@cheneyfreepress.com

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