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“We bring life to the years” — Physical therapy & speech pathology key functional strength

Mary Manuel originally thought of physical therapy as a step in the process to becoming a medical doctor.

More than 35 years of service later — all with CHRISTUS — Manuel knows she is right where she belongs.

A physical therapist and supervisor with CHRISTUS St. Mary Outpatient Center Mid County, Manuel said physical therapy is about wanting people to be functional.

That’s the key to enjoying your life experiences, she said.

“That is why I have always said doctors will add years to your life, but we bring life to the years,” Manuel said. “You want to be functional to enjoy those life events.”

The CHRISTUS department has three disciplines under one roof — physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology.

Some patients need attention on their upper extremities, others may need help learning communicative skills and still others might need help mastering something as important as swallowing. St. Mary’s diverse and dedicated team can help all.

Originally from the Philippines, Manuel jokes CHRISTUS was her first employer “and, hopefully, my last.”

She feels especially passionate about the health organization’s faith-based roots.

“Sometimes the patient is just so depressed, and a little word of encouragement is needed or you might say, ‘why don’t we pray on this?’” Manuel said. “They feel like they belong and become part of the family.”

The team at St. Mary — 8801 9th Avenue in Port Arthur — consists of three licensed physical therapists, all with at least 18 years of experience.

“What I always believe is not all of us are equal; we have our strengths and weaknesses,” Manuel said. “We really try to learn from each other and match our skills with what comes our way.”

The team treats a wide variety of patient needs across all ages. A typical day includes working with a vehicle crash victim, a chronic back pain sufferer or a youth athlete recovering from an injury.

It’s not always those who need help walking. Many of the patients are ambulatory but are having other problems.

Speech pathologist Taylor Miguez uses one of the action toys that is a favorite of her youngest patients. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

Taylor Miguez is a speech pathologist with seven years of professional experience and an important part of the St. Mary team that many in the community might not realize is associated with physical therapy.

The Port Neches native is inspired to help patients improve their the quality of life through a mode of communication.

“It’s amazing seeing people actually make progress, especially progress they didn’t think they could make or didn’t think was possible,” she said.

“Our scope of practice is pretty wide. We do anything from child language, articulation to stroke victims or treating verbal communications. At this location we treat anywhere from a child to an adult.”

Miguez is the only speech pathologist based at St. Mary, but the CHRISTUS team includes four others working in a Beaumont location.

“I’m busy Monday through Friday, 8 to 5,” she said. “It’s definitely a need. We often highlight early intervention with children because it gives them a voice.”

Taylor Miguez uses fuzzy balls and beans as part of her work as a speech pathologist to connect and treat young patients. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

A common concern dealt with comes from parents worried about a child who is not communicating.

If Miguez can emphasize anything, it would be early intervention amounts to success.

Warning signs can typically begin around 18 months, which is when parents should start looking to see that a child is meeting typical communication milestones.

“There are a whole range of milestones to meet according to age that we can track that sometimes parents aren’t always aware of,” Miguez said.

She typically works off a referral system, but those with questions can call and a phone interview and evaluation is possible.

“For kids and parents, sometimes it is a wait and see game,” Miguez said. “Parents say, ‘I think they will catch up. Let’s wait. Give them a little more time.’ But then you get to 4 or 5, and the child is entering school age and you have a lot more ground to make up.”

Miguez said adults with deteriorating communication skills are often not aware of the deficits that arise from neurological episodes. Many don’t realize speech therapy can help.

Often what happens is an adult’s cognition is intact but receptive and expressive language are absent.

“Can you imagine living in your body and you know something is going on but you cannot access your mode of communication,” Miguez said, adding it’s something that can be helped.

Being able to consult with her colleagues or blend treatments is helpful because most patients have more than one concern and all benefit from the social atmosphere.

“We work great; we share patients a lot and it is good to know the person as a whole and how to help with the whole picture,” Miguez said.

During a recent visit to St. Mary by Port Arthur Newsmedia, patient Diane Franklin was hard at work at the parallel bars.

The Port Arthur resident had knee replacement surgery Dec. 9 and was using weights on her ankles and steps on the floor to expand her range of motion.

She said the treatment from CHRISTUS has been great and recommends it to anyone in a similar situation.

A partial view of the physical therapy floor at CHRISTUS St. Mary Outpatient Center Mid County shows the diversity in machine and treatment options included at the Port Arthur facility. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)