July 14, 2017
by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Kayla Williams has seen more than her share of physical therapy rooms in her life
“I was a gymnast for 14 years and with that, obviously, comes injuries,” said the junior diver, who recently turned 21. “I was in physical therapy, actually getting work done for pretty much my whole life. I had four back fractures, I had ankle breaks.”
After all that time doing PT then spending a ton more time last year to rehab her foot after undergoing surgery to remove a broken bone in her foot — an injury and resulting surgery that cost her entire sophomore season — you’d think the last place Williams would want to spend her summer is in a physical therapy room.
You’d think wrong.
She was more determined than ever to be there, but this time on the other side.
“I was there a lot. That kind of interested me,” Williams said. “I was like, `Oh, I have people who spend so much time working on me. That is really what I want to do.'”
She’s getting her wish, performing an internship with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The internship is 40 hours long, of which she’s so far done 10 working on Thursday mornings — that’s in addition to training for her junior year two hours a day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The opportunity to do physical therapy while attending Georgia Tech, where her grandfather graduated, didn’t seem realistic.
Since the Institute doesn’t have a pre-med program she appeared forced to choose between dreams. Kayla, chose Tech, pursuing a degree in business. But then, last year, she learned that there was a way she could pursue her PT dream as well.
“I talked to our academic advisor and she told me that I could take prerequisites to get to PT school and still stay a Business major. So that is what I’m doing,” she said. “That kind of opened up the whole new idea to going back to physical therapy. I got in contact with one of the physical therapists who worked on me pretty much my whole life and she said, `You are more than welcome to come here.’ I had to go a different route.”
Taking a different route to reach her goals isn’t new for Williams. After a lifetime of gymnastics, she gave it up her junior year at Chattahoochee High School, taking up diving. She would letter her final two years, catching the eye of Georgia Tech diving coach John Ames.
“Coach Ames said, `I would love to have you on the team because I see potential,'” Williams recalled.
Kayla also has overcome ADD, which wasn’t diagnosed until her junior year of high school and had caused her difficulties in the classroom.
“Academically I struggled in school,” she said. “I found out I had ADD my junior year and so my academics weren’t up to par in order to get into Tech.”
That fighting spirit and determination to overcome are useful in the internship at Children’s, as is her ability to relate to the patients.
“I can see what they’re going through,” she said. “Some of the injuries I haven’t had but I tell them where I was and here I am and I think that helps them.”
Williams is limited to how much she can help, as she basically is in the role of shadowing Dr. Kelli McLaren, a physical therapist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“I’m not legally allowed to touch the patients, so I’m watching the physical therapists do their job. I help out with getting the exercise equipment out for the patient and I get to talk to the patients and I get to ask them what their injury is or was and what exercises they’re doing to fix that injury,” she said. “Because I was a gymnast my physical therapist sees a lot of gymnasts. So I kind of get to be on the other side of it.”
It’s a basically square one as far as medical training.
“I get to see physically how all of the muscles and all of the things that she works on are muscles that I didn’t realize we had and all of the things that connect with each other,” she said. “Everything’s connected.
“It’s a lot of learning for me,” she added. “It’s a lot of `These are the muscles.’ It’s kind of like school for me because I have to ask the person I’m shadowing what they’re working on and then they describe that to me. So I am getting my anatomy in right now.”
It’s an important first step toward PT school but watching the patients, all of them between the ages of 8 and 17, go through their first steps of rehab can be gut-wrenching and brings back some tough memories.
“Some of the injuries were exactly what I went through so I know exactly how they’re feeling,” she said. “Physical therapy is something that a lot of people don’t want to do. I was there. I hated it. But if you don’t do it you’re not going to see any improvement.
“When new patients come in and they’ve come from surgery, to see them struggling and thinking that they won’t get any better is probably the hardest part,” she added. “In the end they’re going to get better, but they don’t know that at the time and I know how that feels.”
Helping patients see that there is light at the end of the tunnel is reward enough, but the internship is proving extra beneficial, as it has turned on a light on as far as her future, while also serving as a way to give back.
“This is definitely what I want to do,” she said. “I am practicing and I’m watching and I’m not on the other side of getting work done. I want to help people get better because people did that for me all my life and I feel like I should repay my part.”