Local physical therapist honored by MDA

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 24, 2015

 Polly Swingle

Polly Swingle

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Polly Swingle has practiced physical therapy for 30 years, and now she is getting something in return for giving back.


The Muscular Dystrophy Association of Michigan recently selected her as the “Make a Muscle, Make a Difference” award recipient for 2015.


The award is presented annually to a community member who dedicates time, talent and expertise to improve the quality of life for those with muscular dystrophy. Other professionals in MDA clinics nominate someone as the award’s recipient.


Several people are nominated each year. The award has existed for about six years.


“It was an honor; I had no idea,” Swingle, 50, said. “It’s such a great feeling to know how appreciated you are. You put a lot of time and energy into seeing all these patients, and it’s also amazing to see the difference you made in so many people’s lives.


“It’s a great honor to be recognized. A lot of times, therapists are not recognized at this position.”


Swingle works with neurologically impaired individuals who have suffered from muscular dystrophy, neuromuscular disease, MS, Parkinson’s disease, head and spinal injuries, and other conditions.


Her specialty is in neuro rehab, and in the last year she has even become a certified geriatric clinical specialist.


She is also the CEO of The Recovery Project, an outpatient rehabilitation facility with two locations — one in Clinton Township and one in Livonia. In March of this year, the 5,000-square-foot Clinton Township facility opened its doors with more space and more staff members.


The Recovery Project provides outpatient physical therapy, speech therapy, personal trainers, massage therapy and an overall multidisciplinary treatment approach. All treatment provided is based on medical research that explains how to treat certain ailments most effectively.


Specialized equipment helps accomplish that feat, such as electrical stems that encourage motor recovery after paralysis, and body weight support systems that help people to walk again.


To say it’s a passion for Swingle would be an understatement.


“Thirty years ago, I was introduced to rehab in a clinical rotation,” Swingle said. “I fell in love with neuro (rehab) because every patient you see is different; no patient is exactly the same.


“You can make such a huge impact and change in someone’s quality of life, their ability to speak and ability to move. You make such a drastic change in their quality of life and that of their extended family.”


A therapist for the MDA for the past seven years and change, she works twice a week in that environment and deals with approximately 36 diagnoses that the association assesses. She evaluates patients with neurologists who are present — about 35 of them — and screens them for what their needs are: bracing, speech help, walkers, canes, wheelchairs or whatever else.


She oversees patients at different rates, as well. Some patients she sees once a year, while others she may see six times per year. It depends on their needs, she said.


It’s also time that she completely volunteers.


Maggie Segal, director of health care services for the MDA, is in her 30th year and coordinates clinic services and programs like the MDA Summer Camp in Detroit.


She has known Swingle for almost a decade, saying that the work she has accomplished over the years has aided in what the MDA itself tries to accomplish. Segal said the MDA has tripled its outreach over the past 30 years due to the amount of services offered, the social media impact and the Internet in general.


People like Swingle that devote time to patients and give them hope show how far the organization has come, Segal said.


“Candidates are nominated based on their commitment to our population,” Segal said. “We look at those who go above, beyond and away to validate themselves.


“From the get-go, she made such an impact on our population. She educates herself on the population and donates about 50 percent of her time in all of our clinics. She owns The Recovery Project, and any of our patients who don’t have the funds, she will see they get one or two visits so we can get a home program going for them.”


Swingle is in the process of achieving another certification, boosting her neurophysical knowledge. Though rehab helps individuals become functional again, diseases still progress. However, science is opening a gateway toward a new age of medicine.


“I aspire to, from a personal perspective, make my practice well-known as a center for neuro rehab,” Swingle said. “We constantly are striving to use the latest research to make sure we provide best treatment for these kinds of patients.


“What’s interesting with muscular dystrophy in itself (is) there’s so much research in my lifetime that they’re coming up with. What’s exciting is that in science, they will replace bad genes with good genes so the process of disease will stop. We will have the opportunity as therapists (to make sure conditions) won’t get much worse.”


She stresses to her patients that exercise and a healthy body are the first steps to a more fruitful life, especially when science hasn’t quite caught up yet with the diagnoses.


“When people have a form of muscular dystrophy, science is so good now that they won’t die of a spinal injury or head injury; they’ll die from diabetes or something that you and I would die from,” she said.


She said big strides will happen in her lifetime, probably in 30 or 40 years. She attributes slowness not to general knowledge, but to legalities like FDA approval and clinical trials.


As for her own work and efforts, she is not slowing down anytime soon.


“I love to learn. I’m constantly educating myself about what can be done,” Swingle said. “It never gets boring. I get so much personal satisfaction back with the people I work with. You want that with any job.


“In my field, that keeps me going. I just love it.”


For more information about Swingle and The Recovery Project’s therapeutic programs for muscular dystrophy, visit www.therecoveryproject.net or call (855) 877-1944.

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