HSC pro bono physical therapy program offers hope

Thursday, June 20, 2024

HSC's Dr. Elizabeth Garcia with Beverly RozanskiFor 70-year-old Beverly Rozanski, the journey to improved health has been long and challenging. Raised in Michigan, Rozanski spent her childhood and early adult years struggling with physical challenges that made even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. However, her discovery of a pro bono physical therapy program through The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth has given her a new lease on life.

Rozanski’s story begins just outside of Detroit, where she spent her early years before moving to Illinois and then Texas in 1980 when her husband landed a job with Motorola. Settling in the Fort Worth area, she has lived in various parts of the metroplex for the past 43 years. Despite her long-time residency, Rozanski still faced numerous physical challenges stemming from multiple head injuries and other health issues.

“My whole life, I had minor physical struggles,” Rozanski explained. “I felt inadequate compared to others. I had five significant head concussions between the ages of 11 and 25, three of which left me unconscious.”

These concussions, compounded by age-related issues such as foot and leg neuropathy, significantly impacted her balance and coordination. A few years ago, simple activities like walking without tripping became daunting. “I always thought I was lazy or not trying hard enough,” she said. “I didn’t realize these issues were the long-term effects of my head injuries.”

Rozanski’s breakthrough came at a senior expo in Fort Worth last year. There, she encountered a flyer about HSC’s no-cost physical therapy program. Despite her initial skepticism about whether or not she’d qualify, she decided to give it a try.

Upon calling the center, Rozanski spoke with a staff member who reassured her that she was an ideal candidate for the program. This marked the beginning of her transformative journey with Dr. Elizabeth Garcia, assistant professor in HSC’s Department of Physical Therapy, who specializes in neuro-rehabilitation.

Garcia, a first-generation college graduate and third-generation Mexican American, has dedicated her career to pro bono work, motivated by her own family’s experiences with limited health care access. “It never stops being surreal to treat people who look like my mother,” Garcia said. “My mom didn’t have shoes, and now her daughter’s a professor.”

Under Garcia’s guidance, Rozanski’s progress has been remarkable. The therapy addressed not only her physical strength and balance but also her self-esteem. “I almost cried when Dr. Garcia explained that my inadequacies weren’t my fault but the result of my concussions,” Rozanski said. “The psychological benefits have been overwhelming.”

Garcia’s approach integrates various aspects of rehabilitation, including vestibular therapy, physical strengthening and neuro-rehabilitation. Unlike other programs constrained by limited sessions, HSC’s pro bono clinic allows for a more comprehensive and patient-specific treatment plan. “We’re not restricted by a set number of visits, so we can break things down to basics and ensure each step is manageable,” Garcia explained.

This personalized care has made a significant difference in Rozanski’s daily life. She can now perform household tasks, like mowing the lawn and working in her garden, without the constant fear of tripping or falling. She doesn’t have to give up her beloved hobbies, such as tai chi or volunteering at STEPS, an equine-assisted mental health facility. “I used to trip over a small flower border in my yard, but now I don’t,” she said. “I can step into my shed without holding onto the walls or rushing.”

In addition to physical improvements, Rozanski has regained confidence in performing everyday activities. “I can get in and out of the bathtub easily now,” she said. “It’s a small thing, but it means a lot to me.”

“Pro bono physical therapy is a testament to the power of compassion and expertise, providing essential physical recovery and mobility to those who need it most,” said Dr. Michael Furtado, chair of HSC’s Department of Physical Therapy. “Faculty like Dr. Garcia can extend their expertise in an impactful way, and we are committed to continuing these services. I am so thankful to all the faculty and students for their heart to serve”

HSC’s pro bono PT program, which Garcia has been a part of since its opening in 2023, aims to serve underserved populations with high-quality care despite limited resources. “We do a lot with not that much,” Garcia noted. “Our goal is to provide exceptional care efficiently.”

Garcia’s commitment to pro bono work is deeply personal. Growing up in San Antonio, where many residents lacked health insurance, she saw firsthand the importance of accessible health care. “I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have a pro bono service line,” she said. “It’s a way to give back and make a difference.”

Rozanski’s story is a testament to the impact of such programs. “It’s changed my life,” she said. “I feel safer, stronger and more confident. I’m grateful for the program and the incredible support from Dr. Garcia.”


From HSC Newsroom - Our People by Eric Griffey