Denali Jepsen

Volunesia (noun): that moment when you forget you’re volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours.” After arriving back in the states Sunday afternoon, I finally have a few moments to reflect on my 6-week experience in Uganda. I was asked last night what the single best highlight of my trip was… It wasn’t our weekend away at the lake, nor our safari adventure… It was seeing the progression the kiddos made during our short time there.

I would like to share one story in particular about a little girl who will forever leave a space in my heart. When Liz and I first arrived we made a list of goals we wanted to accomplish during our time at Dawn… One of the goals was, “encourage X to increase use of upper and lower extremities on affected side.” At the time we didn’t know the child’s name nor who would be the “assigned” therapist to treat her. I later found out that I was fortunate enough to be child X’s “assigned” therapist. I put “assigned” in quotation marks because once to twice a day Liz and I would pick a kiddo to work with together. We felt like in order to accomplish what we wanted with some of our kiddos we would need more than just one set of hands.

Child X is a 4.5 year old, diagnosed with Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy resulting in left sided weakness. During the first week, I would often observe her hitting her left arm or head when she became frustrated when trying to move that side, when I put on her AFOs, or when I would attempt to help her move her left side. It appeared as if somewhere along the lines someone had correlated her left side to being “bad” because it didn’t function exactly like her right side. During the second or third week Liz and I were co-treating with her and I began to sing. I think child X may have been tone deaf because I am an absolute terrible singer, but for some reason, it calmed her down, allowing Liz to work more effectively with her. I remember Liz standing behind her mouthing, “don’t stop singing.” That moment appeared to be the turning point during my treatment sessions with her. I quickly began to see significant behavioral and physical changes. Child X was no longer hitting her left side or head, she would stand with minimal to contact guard assistance. We were able to work more effectively on ambulating with a posterior walker and hand-held assistance. I would not have been able to accomplish all that I had with her without Liz’s support, assistance, recommendations, and feedback.

Working with Child X and a couple of my kiddos in particular reminded me why I chose to pursue a degree in physical therapy in the first place. Before I was even accepted into PT school I knew my heart and passion lied in working with the pediatric population. What a lot of people don’t know is that during my pediatric clinical rotation I experienced a lot of challenges and self-doubt. I began to question whether or not the pediatric population was still my calling. Fortunately, through my experience in Uganda I found that passion again. Liz Grover words cannot express how thankful I am that we took this journey together. Through your knowledge, insight, and support you helped me find my love for working with the children again.

Below you will find pictures of the kiddos I was blessed to work with, grow with, and “play” with during my time in Uganda. No words could ever express how they have positively impacted my life. My hope is to keep in contact with their therapists in Uganda in order to assist when necessary and provide insight regarding treatment suggestions/recommendations.

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