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Meet a medical professional

Occupational therapist helps patients with traumatic brain injury

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The field of occupational therapy had never occurred to Roseville resident Brandy Cosgrove, occupational therapist at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute. Instead, she pursued studies to become a physical therapist. She became interested in this line of work as a teenager in high school after a friend’s father had accidentally fallen off a roof and became paralyzed. Cosgrove saw first-hand how the therapists interacted with the father and the family.

During her studies, she job-shadowed an OT and fell in love with the profession. She quickly changed from physical therapy to occupational therapy in order to work with patients who had been injured or had suffered a debilitating illness. While Cosgrove mostly works with patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, she also works with stroke patients and other patients who have undergone orthopedic repairs.

Traumatic brain injury comes from an impact to the head from a direct blow or from sudden movement such as severe shaking. Most patients suffer TBI from car or motorcycle accidents, falls or gunshot wounds, like U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Those injured with a TBI can suffer short-term memory loss, difficulty in concentrating, become easily agitated and fatigued and may even experience increased anxiety or impulsive behavior.

Regardless of how a patient sustained a TBI, the patient needs to recover or relearn self-care and cognitive skills in order to regain as much function as possible once the patient is discharged from a rehabilitation facility. As an OT who works with TBI patients, Cosgrove first evaluates the patient and then provides a treatment plan for restoring the patient’s endurance and strength in order to improve the patient’s ability to perform daily living activities. This includes customized therapy to assist the patient in performing activities such as dressing, grooming, preparing meals and household chores, to name a few. Other activities include using a computer, cooking, gardening, golfing and other pastimes that are meaningful to the patient.

“My goal with each patient is to help them gain as much independence as possible,” Cosgrove said. “I want my patients to have the ability to live their lives to the fullest.”

This includes recommending adaptive equipment that can aid a person in performing daily life activities with greater independence, such as a tub or shower seat for bathing if a patient has poor balance, or tub or shower grab bars for greater safety as the patient gets in and out of a tub or shower. Cosgrove also teaches patients how to compensate for memory impairments such as short-term memory loss.

In addition, Cosgrove works with patients’ families and educates them about the recovery process. She teaches family members techniques to help the patient manage physical and cognitive challenges.

“Every patient comes to Sutter Rehabilitation Institute with different problems,” Cosgrove said. “We had one patient who fought hard to regain the ability to resume his daily living activities. He amazed us with his progress. Then we had a patient that we had to struggle with to get her to even cooperate. In the end, we were able to make progress with her. It was worth the effort. It’s always worth the effort.”

Cosgrove collaborates with a team to provide rehabilitation help to each patient. She works with a physiatrist, which is a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a physical therapist, a speech therapist and a neuropsychologist. Her team shares the same patient caseload and is in constant communication during the day as they work with the patients.

Cosgrove has been an OT since 2005. When not working at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute, she does missionary work for Bridgeway Christian Church in Rocklin, going to Haiti at least two times a year to run a medical clinic she established two years ago. She runs the two-day clinic with a physician, pharmacist, nurses, medical assistants and a physical therapist, seeing about 100 individuals each day. Cosgrove is able to take time off from her OT duties at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute and in addition is able to take to Haiti medical supplies donated by the rehabilitation center.

“It’s awesome to work where I am supported both in my job and also outside of work,” she said.

As this month winds up National Occupational Therapy month, Cosgrove celebrates her job as an OT. “It’s rewarding to help people gain functionality again,” she said. “Every patient touches my heart as they relearn their way to greater independence.”