Diane Coleman had her 15 minutes of fame. The occupational therapist from UAB Highlands Hand Therapy Clinic was on NBC’s Today Show last October. Her patient, Cary Ramey, became a media sensation after a groundbreaking, twelve hour toe-thumb transplant at UAB. He lost his thumb and half his index finger after a car crash two years prior.
“Meeting someone who refused to give into his disabilities and wanting to move forward to face his challenges to attain independence in all areas of self-care, work and leisure was an inspiration,” said Coleman, a UAB Occupational Therapy alumnus.
Seen in the Today Show story, Coleman worked with Ramey’s range of motion and fine motor coordination activities to allow him to return to most of his activities of daily living and work tasks with minimal limitations.
“At the time of the interview, he had progressed with gripping and pinching of large four-inch objects to manipulating small 1/8 inch pegs,” said Coleman. “These abilities allowed him to return to work lifting weighted objects.”
In her more than 25 years as an occupational therapist, Coleman had never seen a procedure like this. She has, however, dealt with cultural differences throughout her career after moving across the country several times due to her husband’s job transfers. She has lived in Hawaii, New Jersey and back to Alabama again.
“There was not always an opening in my area of interest during a move,” said Coleman. “Learning to be flexible, I was able to take the staff position and gain new skills in the process. That is why this field is the perfect field with the broad spectrum of possibilities to treat.”
Occupational therapists work in diverse areas such as hospital acute care, in-patient rehab, out-patient rehab, school systems, psychiatric setting, home health and industrial work settings.
Coleman said having a patient like Ramey makes her job very rewarding.
“Life does not end with the diagnosis, accident or the injury, but life can be adapted to a new level with what has been altered,” said Coleman. “Cary wears a tattoo on each wrist that says ‘carpe diem’ meaning seize the day. I say ditto.”