Sarah Howard entered Macomb’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program in 2014 wanting to help patients who lost their ability to perform daily tasks that many of us take for granted. But she never expected to be working in an ICU during a pandemic.
“These patients were so deconditioned that simply moving their arms or lifting their head off a pillow would cause them shortness of breath,” says Howard, a licensed occupational therapy assistant at William Beaumont Hospital in Troy. “It was very eye opening to see how COVID-19 affected these patients. I had never seen anything like it.”
A 2014 Anchor Bay High School graduate, Howard credits her high school health occupation classes for stoking an interest in a health care career. And, she credits Macomb for providing her with the “building blocks” to make it a successful one.
“I can’t say anything but good things about my experience at Macomb,” says Howard, who was offered a position at Beaumont before she completed her associate degree. “I was able to satisfy my classes for the Michigan Transfer Agreement at Macomb while working full time because there were multiple class choices held at times that worked for my schedule.”
From Macomb, Howard transferred to Western Michigan University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Health Care Services in June. She is continuing on to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy, required to become an occupational therapist in Michigan.
“I have always been fascinated how someone with a disability, injury or illness was able to do something that I take for granted,” says Howard. “I like that occupational therapy works with individuals across the lifespan. You look at the whole person and help them achieve what makes their life meaningful to them.”
After the first days of the pandemic, Howard had to adapt to new safety protocols. At first, she received instruction in telehealth and coached patients through their therapeutic exercises by phone. When she was allowed to work with patients directly in their hospital rooms again, there were several layers of personal protective equipment to be worn. As COVID cases lessen and restrictions relax on elective surgeries, she now faces an unusually diverse caseload.
“I could be treating a critically ill patient that spent days on a ventilator one minute,” relates Howard, “and then be working with a patient that had hip replacement the next.”
The rewards of the job, however, are always the same.
“I get to share a patient’s excitement as they gradually recover their independence, and I encourage them when they don’t see the progress they are making,” says Howard. “I tell them, ‘Look how far you’ve come. Today, you can brush your teeth.’”