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Nature … Nurture: Taking therapy outdoors accelerates recovery for former Scout

Written by  Holly Ford

Using FireSteel and lint collected from the laundry, 50-year-old former archaeologist Langdon Plaster lit his first campfire in years. He was far from the grounds of the Boy Scout camp he once loved, and there were no young campers there to observe his fire-starting skills. But for Plaster, this spring afternoon among the trees renewed his spirit and motivated him to keep working toward recovery. 

Hurdle After Hurdle

For him to give up or to feel down on his luck would have been expected and understood. Plaster had faced a string of health setbacks in recent years. He’d just successfully undergone a kidney transplant when a case of pneumonia zapped his strength and made him unsteady on his feet.

“I was just sweeping my front porch when I tripped over the door mat,” says Plaster. “I reached out for the column to break my fall, but I missed and landed so that the edge of the porch hit between my femur and hip. Fortunately, I didn’t injure my new kidney.”

Plaster was admitted to Stanleytown Health and Rehabilitation Center for inpatient therapy after a successful surgery to repair his hip. “He was in a lot of pain and was very weak when he arrived,” says physical therapy assistant Wes Stone. “He couldn’t put any weight on his right leg, so we took it slow in the beginning and focused on leg strengthening and balance.”

Tailor-Made Therapy

After a couple of weeks in Stanleytown’s exclusive LifeWorks Rehab program, Plaster was strong enough to get out of his wheelchair. “Every day they had a new exercise or activity for me, so I was never bored,” says Plaster. “I love playing games so they set up Yahtzee at the counter. I could stand while playing and work on strengthening my leg.”

“We like to find out [our patients’] hobbies so we can incorporate them into their therapy,” says occupational therapy assistant Lisa Nelson. “If we can make therapy sessions patient-centered, then patients are more likely to stay engaged and push themselves. Each patient that enters our LifeWorks program follows their progress on our Recovery Map. Their journey to health is personalized to them and that’s why we work hard to get creative to motivate them to their next phase of wellness.”

When the Stanleytown staff learned of Plaster’s love of camping, they jumped at the chance to get him outdoors. “I hadn’t been camping in recent years due to health problems, but I used to really love it,” says Plaster. “I craved that solitude and peacefulness of the outdoors.”

It wasn’t as scenic as the Blue Ridge, but the makeshift camp — complete with tent, fire pit and camp chairs donated by employees — set up on the grounds at Stanleytown Health and Rehabilitation offered Plaster the change of scenery he needed.

“We sat in the shade by the fire and people came by to make s’mores,” says Plaster. “I was still using a walker, so I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to, but I did help direct them on setting up the tent. Then we sat around and talked until dinnertime. It was a very fun day.”

“This was an activity that [Mr. Plaster] would actually do at home, so we were able to incorporate it into his care,” says Nelson. “The experience really boosted his confidence and I could see a difference in his therapy sessions after that day.”

After just two months of therapy, Plaster was discharged and was able to return home. “Very rarely do we get patients who are so motivated,” says Stone. “For most patients, recovery from that injury would have taken six to 12 months. [Mr. Plaster] was unique.”

“I had a vision when I arrived for therapy that I would walk out of there, and I did,” says Plaster. His next goal: camping at the fiddlers’ convention in Galax. “I didn’t make it this time, but maybe next year.”



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