OT Students Provide Care and Companionship to Family with Special Needs

One local family has forged a special relationship with students in the MS in occupational therapy program at Jefferson.

Elisheva “Eli” Apple, a 28-year-old woman living with the effects of cerebral palsy, receives daily assistance from a group of OT students who do everything from helping her with eating and aiding her in home exercises, to facilitating a positive social environment that respects the wants and needs of a young adult.

Apple’s parents, Talya Fishman and Max Apple, visited students on the East Falls Campus to give a donation to the OT program and to thank the students for all their help over the years with their daughter, who requires around-the-clock attention due to her neurological condition.

Max Apple, Talya Fishman and their daughter Elisheva visited East Falls Campus to thank OT students for their help.

“You feel like a family to us,” Fishman tells the crowd.

Max Apple, too, shared how the students have made a huge difference in their lives, offering tips to make Apple’s overall care easier and providing companionship.

“You can pay for the duties,” he says, motioning to his daughter, “but you can’t pay for the friendship.”

The special relationship the OT students have with Apple is vital to their education as health professionals, says Wendy Krupnick, director of the MS in OT program. “The opportunity for them to work closely with and engage in her lived experience cannot be replicated in the classroom.”

OT student Jenny Buchanan worked with Apple for a year, helping with daily self-care and accompanying her to her volunteer job at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and to the Y for swimming. Through the experience, Buchanan also practiced essential clinical skills, such as transfers.

“Knowing and working with Eli has been invaluable,” she says. “Because she cannot speak, learning to communicate with her through her communication device has enhanced my ability to use and understand nonverbal communication and to practice therapeutic use of self.”

The family first came to know Jefferson well in 2016 when OT student Erin Davidson and industrial design student Jay Koh worked together on a class project to develop a new adjustable table mounting system for Apple’s communication device and iPad. The upgraded mount provides easy access to her devices when Eli is in her wheelchair, and it also can attach to any table surface to give her the option to use it in multiple settings.

Seeing the thoughtful attention the two students provided to their daughter’s needs, Apple’s parents decided they wanted to continue the relationship with Jefferson by hiring OT students as caregivers.

“You combine the compassion with the know-how,” says Fishman. “It’s really inspiring.”

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