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63-year-old Tina Watkins was fast asleep when a response call came in, alarm blaring. When she quickly got out of bed as she had done hundreds of times in her 34-year tenure with the City of Richmond Fire Department, she slipped. Watkins had just finished recovering from a hamstring reattachment on her right leg. So, in an attempt to not reinjure herself, she tried to compensate but felt a pop in her left knee.
“I didn’t think anything about it. I just went on to the call, but it started hurting. I thought I pulled a muscle or something,” Watkins recalls.
Following x-rays and a visit to her orthopedic surgeon, the diagnosis was a torn meniscus—she would need surgery. “Sheltering Arms is an approved worker’s compensation facility for us, so that’s how I ended up rehabbing there,” Watkins said.
She began her physical rehabilitation journey at Sheltering Arms Midtown clinic before asking her doctor for a referral to work hardening. “I had worked myself up to where I could utilize my body, but I wanted to make sure I was able to do the things I have to do on the job like walk up steps and move things, so I don’t reinjure myself,” Watkins said.
Work Hardening is part of Sheltering Arms’ Industrial Rehabilitation Program, which helps people recover from and avoid future workplace injuries. Work hardening is a highly structured program individualized for each patient to improve physical function and emulate on-the-job tasks. “As a firefighter, we add an additional 60 pounds to our body. We started simulating that and I found out the weakest part of me is going up steps; that’s where I have the most difficulty when I put the equipment on,” Watkins said about structuring her program.
Lynn Hewette, physical therapist and senior member of the Industrial Rehabilitation Team, set up a series of work hardening sessions where Tina would hit the steps for at least three cycles. Watkins said, “I was determined I was going to get myself to a functional stage. I had good days, I had bad days, and I had awful days.”
In addition to rehabbing her left leg, this course of therapy also provided additional rehabilitation for her previously injured right leg as well. “The exercises I was doing when I rehabbed my right leg for my hamstring injury, I never got the opportunity to do what I did at Sheltering Arms. The equipment and everything was so much better,” Watkins said about her experience.
Watkins says she continues to speak highly of the work hardening program to her superiors in hopes that if young firefighters find themselves injured, they will be aware of Sheltering Arms’ Work Hardening Program to achieve their most complete recovery.