Hope. People cling to it when waiting for a loved one to return from war or when diagnosed with a serious illness. Hope also represents the dreams of a couple about to be married and parents upon the birth of their babies. Hope is the name three partners gave their new McAllen therapy clinic.
Beckie Wood, Michelle Trevino and Dr. Pat Riley teamed up to form Hope Therapy Center, located at 4107 N. 22nd Street at the far west end of the lot. Wood serves as clinic director and Trevino is the clinic administrator. The clinic opened Feb. 2.
Six speech therapists, two occupational therapists, one physical therapist and one physical therapy assistant see patients of all ages. They work with individuals who have speech and language delays, autism, stuttering and other speech disorders, sensory issues and all types of physical disabilities. But Hope Therapy Center is unlike any center south of Austin. They specialize in working with hearing impaired children, particularly those with cochlear implants.
Specially trained ear/nose/throat (ENT) surgeons perform cochlear implants on severe or profoundly deaf patients. During the surgery, electrodes are wound through the cochlea and an internal receiver is implanted just below the surface of the skull. A small microphone and processor are worn externally, allowing sound to bypass the auricle (outer ear) and travel directly through the cochlear implant, thus providing deaf individuals with hope, the hope to hear sounds they would have otherwise never experienced and to aid in the development of speech.
“We decided to open this clinic,” Wood said, “because we knew we could provide services in an ethical manner where we focus on the patient. This has always been a dream of mine. Working with children and adults with cochlear implants is a part of this dream. Implants open a new world to them, allowing them to hear birds, music and voices. Many will also become oral (communicating through speech).”
Wood has worked as a speech pathologist for 29 years, 20 of those with hearing impaired children. Angela Hernandez, who recently earned her master’s in speech pathology from UTPA, has an aunt who is deaf. Nina Raff recently completed her fifteenth year as a speech pathologist in McAllen ISD’s Regional School for the Deaf. She will now work full-time at Hope. Another of the center’s speech pathologists, Jessica Molina, worked in the RSD program for six years. Throughout their years of education and experience, the group has received extensive training in visual phonics, cochlear implants and other speech and language issues involving the deaf and hard-of-hearing. They are also fluent in American Sign Language, which allows them to communicate directly and effectively with the children and adults they treat whose first language is ASL.
Hope Therapy Center recently teamed up with Dr. F. Robert Glatz from Valley Ear Nose & Throat Specialists to start a support group for families with hearing impaired children. Dr. Glatz is the only Rio Grande Valley surgeon who performs cochlear implants. He recently hired Cristina Munoz to assist him with community outreach. Cristina has a bachelor’s in rehabilitation with a concentration in Deaf Rehab from UTPA.
Sonia Quintero, deafness resource specialist for Region IX-B Communication Axess Ability Group (CAAG) of South Texas, spoke at the group’s first meeting. She informed parents about resources and equipment available to individuals with hearing impairments ranging from the Sidekick to videophones and phones with higher volume capabilities. Parents in attendance learned how to acquire this equipment free of charge through the Specialized Telecommunications Assistance Program (STAP).
“The support group,” Wood said, “allows families to support each other and learn about resources in our community. We also offer free childcare during the monthly meetings so parents don’t have to worry about finding a sitter. We have established ground rules involving confidentiality so the group can build trust.”
Physicians refer patients to Hope Therapy Center. Professionals there conduct an initial evaluation and develop a plan of care. A 90-day progress report is sent to the referring physician and re-evaluations are provided every six months thereafter. The center takes Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance. The center provides free transportation upon parent request throughout the Mid- and Upper-Valley. Therapy is provided year-round.
Exactly what Wood envisioned has come to pass.
“I’m very excited. We are committed to making this a fun place for kids and therapists,” she said, “a place where our employees want to come to work and where kids want to come for therapy. That feeling comes from the top and goes all the way down to the kids. Here they will feel loved and cared for.”
Hope Therapy Center definitely attracts the attention of its young patients. In the waiting area, their painted handprints have become the bodies for colorful butterflies along the walls. (Wood said someone recently told her about Hedyloidea, nocturnal butterflies that develop ears on their wings to protect themselves from bats and allow them to locate the origin of sound while they are in flight. How fitting that Hope employees chose butterflies for the walls.) In addition, each day, the children are allowed to fill the birdfeeders and feed Rosie, a turtle at the center. They also water plants, each activity providing perfect opportunities for language development in real-world situations. As an added bonus, the children take responsibility for creatures and plants in our environment.
“That really is special to us,” Wood said.
Wood, her partners and her employees chose Hope, and Christopher Reeves’ words have rung true. They have seen that now anything is possible.