She had plenty of energy and a desire to help people, but Cathy Carver wasn’t sure how she was going to combine those two things 15 years ago.

Cathy Carver is known for her energy and drive as a physical therapist in the Spain Rehabilitation Center. Her ability to think outside the box helped her achieve the Innovations in Physical Therapy Award.
At first she thought it might be by working with athletes. Carver was a student athletic trainer at Mississippi State for three years, but after her final year, she realized that wasn’t where she needed to be.

“I decided I wanted to work with people who have regular problems and who want to live a regular life,” Carver says. “I wanted to find a way to help people make the most of their life situation given their disability. Since then it’s been a creative challenge. How do you help people make the most of what they have so they can live the life they have left to live?

“That drives me every day.”

Carver has put her energy and contagious drive to use as a physical therapist in the Spain Rehabilitation Center for more than 11 years. She recently received the Innovations in Physical Therapy Award from the Alabama Physical Therapy Association. Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Scott Bickel, Ph.D., nominated Carver for futuristic thinking and innovative programming.

Specifically, Bickel pointed to Carver’s lead role in developing a loco-motor training program at the Spain Rehab Center (SRC) and collaborating with faculty in the Department of Physical Therapy to create a system to collect standardized outcome measures on patients treated at the SRC.

The loco-motor program utilizes a body-weight support system and treadmill known as the TheraStride along with manual assistance from physical therapists in an effort to enhance the ability of patients with mobility deficits.

Carver and a team of SRC physical therapists raised almost $100,000 to purchase the TheraStride and implement the loco-motor program — the only such program in Alabama. The equipment enables physical therapists to help patients achieve proper motor function and control, improve balance and walking and increase weight-bearing abilities for standing. Carver says it is an integral component of the therapy patients need to learn how to walk again following neurologic injury or damage.

“We’re targeting different populations, but the four groups of people we treat the most are those who have suffered strokes, have incomplete spinal cord injuries, brain injuries or Parkinson’s disease,” Carver says. “We’ve established a solid criteria for who we can help with the equipment, how to progress them through treatment and how to educate them on what to do at home. We’ve seen some encouraging results.”

Among those contributing or giving a grant to the SRC were the Women’s Committee of Spain Rehabilitation Center, the Department of Physical Therapy, the Alabama Power Foundation and private donors.

Bickel says raising the funds through grants and other private donations to acquire the equipment and creating a loco-motor therapy program benefits UAB patients, doctors, therapists and students.

“Cathy and her team deserve a tremendous amount of credit for raising the funds to purchase all the equipment,” Bickel says. “They now have a state-of-the-art, evidence-based loco-motor training program at SRC, and it’s our opinion that if it were not for the enthusiasm and innovative thinking from Cathy, this program would not have been implemented.”

Improved clinical practice through research
Carver also has demonstrated a commitment to innovative clinical practice by collaborating with faculty from physical therapy in research. They have worked together to create a system where standardized outcome measures are collected and entered into a database.

“This innovative infrastructure will enable us to track outcomes over time and facilitate future clinical research studies,” Bickel says. “These efforts undoubtedly will lead to improved clinical practice and contribute to the growing body of evidence in rehabilitation.”

UAB physical therapy students also benefit from the collaboration. They are working with therapists to collect data and learn the latest techniques instead of reading about it.

“Very few rehab centers have the luxury of being located right across the street from the physical therapy school,” Carver says. “We can bridge the gap and bring the academics and clinical together to produce very meaningful research. We hope to get some of our research published in the next year or so.”

Team effort
Carver is quick to give credit to her co-workers and applaud their efforts to help secure the funds necessary to purchase the equipment and create the loco-motor program.

“This has been a team effort,” she says. “We have some very dedicated therapists at Spain Rehab who have been crucial to getting this program going. We had a number of people help us review the literature and another group that helped pursue the grants. It’s been a community effort to get this program running, so even though my name is on the award, it really represents the work of a lot of people.”

The combination of providing care and conducting research is going to empower the work of Carver and her fellow physical therapists to continue to do what she says every good physical therapist strives to do — help their patients find a way to overcome their obstacles.

“It excites me and inspires me to see someone who doesn’t quit when they’ve been dealt a card in their life that’s pretty catastrophic,” she says. “I feed off of them. If they’re trying to make the most of an unfortunate situation, I’m going to get behind them with all I’ve got.

“People deserve the best and deserve the opportunity to continue to do what they enjoy doing in life.”