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The Journal Gazette

  • Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette Angie Reimer, an occupational therapist with Lutheran Hospital, helps Austin Ortiz make dog treats during a therapy session last month. Ortiz, 20, suffered a traumatic brain injury a year ago as the result of a head-on car crash. Ortiz regularly helps his mother cook dinner as he prepares to live independently.

Sunday, June 24, 2018 1:00 am

Providing patients a future

Occupational therapist helps relearn life skills

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette


Name: Angie Reimer

Age: 41

Job title: Occupational therapist 

Background: Associate degree in occupational therapy, University of Saint Francis; bachelor's degree in health sciences, University of Findlay; master's degree in occupational therapy, University of Findlay; doctorate in occupational therapy, Indiana University; before joining Lutheran Hospital, Reimer crafted clinical programming and staff training for a group of nursing homes; she also owns Neuro Recovery Unlimited, the only stroke rehabilitation certification program in the country in collaboration with the National Stroke Association 

Angie Reimer works with patients whose lives have been turned upside down by brain injuries.

After a stroke, brain tumor, traumatic brain injury or gunshot wound, patients can find themselves unable to walk, talk, grasp, see or think clearly.

“A little bit of everything” can be affected, said Reimer, an occupational therapist with Lutheran Hospital. “Their entire life changes.”

But, she added, “no two people are ever going to look the same, even if they have the same brain injury.”

Reimer's job is to help patients recover as much ability as possible to do the things that matter to them.

The married mother of three wants patients to live a busy, fulfilling life like the one she's built for herself on a small farm in Whitley County.

Reimer guides patients through the sometimes discouraging process of working around physical obstacles and mental lapses. Many of the patients are young or middle-aged adults raising children.

Patients often have to relearn how to get dressed, shower, use the bathroom, make a bed, load a dishwasher and cook.

The 45-minute sessions can also include finding new ways to participate in a hobby, such as golf. For some, that might mean simply riding along in the golf cart to enjoy social time with friends. For others, specially adapted golf clubs make playing possible.

One morning last month, Reimer guided 20-year-old Austin Ortiz in making dog treats. The Butler man suffered a traumatic brain injury one year ago in a head-on car crash after he fell asleep at the wheel.

Doctors initially thought Ortiz wouldn't recover fully. But after less than a year he was out of a wheelchair, walking on his own, and able to measure and mix ingredients. The lesson also required him to roll the dough and cut the treats with a cookie cutter.

Although his left arm was partly drawn toward his chest, Ortiz used it to grasp the jar of peanut better and steady the mixing bowl while he stirred.

Throughout the process, Reimer and Ortiz gently teased each other, making the session feel like friends hanging out.

His progress, which has inspired other patients, has allowed Ortiz to set a goal of attending college at Eastern Kentucky University, where he wants to study nursing.

“People helped me,” he said, “so I feel like I should give back.”

Sonja Winebrenner, Lutheran Hospital's operations manager for outpatient rehabilitation, said Reimer is a tireless advocate for patients, staff and the entire department.

Reimer also gives patients hope, helping them adopt goals and a game plan to reach those goals, her supervisor said.

“Sometimes these patients don't even see that they even have a future,” Winebrenner said. “She's just awesome.”