ADAPT OR GIVE UP
“There is no cure – no surgery in the world can fix your knee. And the only recommendation that we can give you is to avoid activities that involve twisting, jumping or turning of your leg. Here’s a doctor’s note to be excused from your Physical Education classes”
When Gina Fernandez heard those words from numerous orthopaedic surgeons as a child, she turned to a rehabilitation team to help her. These specialists came together to generate some creative solutions to help her lead a life with a reduced risk of injury. Though these rehabilitation specialists couldn’t give her an easy fix for her knee, they gave her some words of hope - if she could perform an activity without putting her knee at a risky angle, then perhaps she could reduce the chance of pain occurring and needing to wear a knee brace, every day of her life. Inspired by these creative health care professionals, Gina delved deeper into the world of body biomechanics and began an informal task analysis of activities.If you were to watch her performing on stage or teaching a dance class, you would never guess the compensatory mechanisms and strategies that Gina uses while executing turns, jumps and twists in the air. After realizing which angles and movements were needed for an activity and which movements put her knee at risk, she began to perform activities…high risk activities such as dance, modifying the movements as needed to accommodate these restrictions. Confident that she could apply this knowledge in the real world, she began to pursue some of the highest impact styles of dance – Bhangra and Bollywood, and simultaneously began to explore the possibility of a career in rehabilitation. In particular, Gina realized that she loved the principles of adapted fitness and helping people to pursue leisure activities amidst challenges, and thus, obtained her Master of Occupational Therapy degree. Soon after, she began coaching collegiate dance teams and teaching introductory Indian dance classes at various dance studios throughout the Lower Mainland, Sechelt, and Kamloops. Her worlds of dance and health care began to merge smoothly, as Gina led dance fundraiser workshops for cancer research, and choreographed and performed in Vancouver Coastal Health’s tobacco cessation music video.
She brings a unique aspect to the classes, emphasizing ergonomic principles when teaching demanding Indian choreography and stunts, and modifying dance routines as needed for children with injuries and the geriatric population. Her classes are often filled with people recovering from illnesses who miss dancing and people with chronic conditions who simply want to get moving again.Concurrently, in the public and private sector, where she is formally employed as an Occupational Therapist, Gina builds client centered plans for adults recovering from strokes or brain injuries, using movements and sequences from dance as remediation exercises to restore function to upper extremities, increase awareness of the affected side, improve activity tolerance and cognition.
Though Gina uses standardized assessments such as the Chedoke-McMaster Stroke Assessment with adults post-stroke, and the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency with the paediatric population, she often utilizes informal, unstandardized assessments, as well. You can usually find her analyzing a person’s cognition or quality of movement as someone reaches, steps across the floor, turns or completes a multiple step sequence – whether it’s on the dance floor or, in the private clinic at Abilities Neurological Rehabilitation in Surrey, BC, or at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Regardless of the practice area she works in, she strives to include leisure as part of her assessment focus.
Photos by Vincent Chow: vincechow.ca
FUTURE DIRECTIONSRecently, Gina moved into the field of paediatrics and embraced the challenge of engaging paediatric clients with developmental and physical challenges in the public sector in Squamish, BC and at the private clinic in Surrey, BC. Remarkably, she discovered that she could use music and dance to effectively build rapport and obtain results with this clientele. As such, she continues to utilize dance sequences to build spatial awareness, upper extremity coordination, improve attention and transitions between activities for paediatric clients. Interestingly, over the past year, Gina has also had the opportunity to meet and perform with other occupational therapists passionate about dance. To check out this extraordinary dance group, look for them performing at community events, under the group name of Bollywood Remixed, or as backup dancers for A-Slam music productions!