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Not Just A Name on a Plaque

January 2013

Brendan Regan was surprised to see how much has changed at St. Ambrose since he graduated in 2005.

The addition of North and West halls caught his eye. Jim's Place, the Brown Street home to a showcase center for adaptive technology, was of particular interest. And Regan was awed as he toured the two-year-old Center for Health Sciences Education at Genesis.

"The mannequins were pretty cool," he said of the computerized patient simulators that College of Health and Human Services students employ in their course work. "I thought there was an actual person in there."

It was Regan who filled the role of "actual person" for first-year students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program on the first Friday in October.

Regan lost the use of his legs and partial use of his hands in a diving accident during a spring trip to Florida with the St. Ambrose baseball team in 2002. He shared his extensive experience as a therapy patient with students eager to learn from a client's perspective.

His visit carried even more impact, considering Regan met the students in Therapeutics Lab B, a room dedicated in his honor by a generous donor.

"It was helpful I know for me, and I think for other students, to have it coming from someone you can relate to," said Karen Clark, a first-year DPT student from Boise, Idaho. "And it was very helpful to see some of the things we're learning about in class, too."

Program Director Michael Puthoff, PhD, said DPT cohorts typically meet with an experienced rehab client in their second semester. But the timing of Regan's first trip back to St. Ambrose as an alumnus was too valuable of a learning opportunity to leave untapped.

"So many times you walk into a building and you see names on a plaque and they are just names," Puthoff said. "This is actually a person, a life experience, a life story that is connected with the learning environment we are in."

A native of suburban Milwaukee, Regan purchased a home in Woodruff, Wis., in the northwoods in 2010. His mother, Mary Ellen, lives nearby, but the 32-year-old Regan lives a largely independent life in the company of his service dog, Grady.

Regan requires the assistance of a nurse to get his day started, but he can drive himself in a specially outfitted van and he is able to fish and hunt as well.

"I try to keep busy," said Regan, who returned to St. Ambrose two years after the accident and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. "I just try to keep my mind busy. Work out as much as I can. I want to keep going. Keep doing stuff. I love the outdoors. I try to stay outside as much as I can."

His return to St. Ambrose in the company of his mother, a nurse and the ever-faithful Grady was a little emotional. Regan said he didn't know he would be meeting DPT students in the laboratory named in his honor but he welcomed the opportunity.

"I don't mind getting in front of people and telling my story," he said. "If it helps them, that's good."

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