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DPT Student Knows Other Side of Therapy

February 2014 | by Craig DeVrieze


As learning opportunities go, this is nothing Alyssa Curtis would recommend.

Still, the St. Ambrose Doctor of Physical Therapy program student said the glass-half-full flipside to her ongoing fight to overcome a cancerous brain tumor is that she now has experienced physical therapy from a patient's perspective.

"It has given me empathy, no doubt," said Curtis, who continues to regain strength and mobility after surgery to remove the tumor left her with minor paralysis to her left-side extremities. "I know how difficult therapy is. I know things to say to patients and I definitely know things not to say.

"It is going to absolutely make me a better physical therapist," she said. "And I will get back to being a physical therapist. It is going to take some time but I will get there."

Curtis was nearing the finish line of the rigorous DPT program when she experienced seizures while on her clinical assignment at a Peoria, Ill., hospital in late August.

Surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., removed the bulk of the tumor in September. Curtis spent the rest of the fall undergoing radiation and chemotherapy along with physical therapy to overcome mobility issues.

The last of that initial phase of her therapies occurred in early December. A week later, she scaled a ramp to a stage to take part in Winter 2013 Commencement ceremonies at the Davenport RiverCenter. She was hooded along with 34 members of her graduating cohort.

Curtis was undeterred by the brace on her left ankle but was mildly self-conscious about the tennis shoes the brace required her to wear with her cap and gown. Or she was, at least, until she arrived at the RiverCenter and found every other member of her cohort sporting colorful tennis shoes, too.

It was a kind of group hug. With feet.

"We say all the time how much we have each others' back," Curtis said. "This is absolute proof."

While she will still need to complete her clinical assignment before she is an official program graduate, Curtis said her walk across the commencement stage was another leg in a journey she fully intends to complete.

"I know what it's going to continue to take," she said of her ongoing rehabilitation. " I also know people have gone through what I am going through and they got through it. They got back."

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