Alumna Makes a Difference Internationally

August 8, 2023

An EWU occupational therapy alumna is providing peer education for therapists who work with hand-trauma patients, both close to home and a world away in war-torn Ukraine.

Haley Van Escobar ’12, helped to bring a national interactive hand therapy class to Eastern Washington University over the weekend of Aug. 5-6. The course, developed by the American Society of Hand Therapists, was hosted by EWU’s Occupational Therapy Program. It was co-instructed by Escobar and Hannah Gift, both certified hand therapists.

EWU Master of Occupational Therapy students helped to ensure the success of the workshop while also learning about hand therapy

Fifteen licensed physical and occupational therapists came from Washington, Oregon, California and New Mexico to attend the class. As an added bonus, 16 master’s degree students from EWU’s Occupational Therapy Program assisted with training in the cadaver lab, and other activities, while learning more about this specialty.

“There’s a very hands-on element to our profession,” says Van Escobar, who was thrilled by the number of students willing to volunteer over a summer weekend. “Their professionalism was just outstanding. They represented Eastern to an exceptional degree,” says Van Escobar, who also praised Lucretia Berg, associate professor and chair of the Occupational Therapy Program, for her work in organizing student volunteers and ensuring they were included in the learning process.

Van Escobar is an expert in clinical-skills development and prosthetics. A classically-trained pianist, she resides in Seattle and operates Restore Performance LLC, a business focused on training therapists to help musicians who’ve suffered hand injuries.  As one of just over 8,500 certified hand therapy professionals in the world, Van Escobar has given presentations at international conferences while also volunteering for impactful causes.

Haley Van Escobar was thrilled to bring a national hand therapy course to her alma mater.

Among these causes has been assisting practitioners who work in conflict zones. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, for example, Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have experienced a flood of war-related hand injuries. Van Escobar stepped up to help by creating a webinar for physicians and other professionals doing rehabilitation/physiotherapy. The video of the webinar, Amputations of the Partial or Whole Hand, is posted on Hand in Hand with Ukraine, a website aimed at “developing hand therapy skills and knowledge in a war zone.”

Physicians and therapists in Ukraine face a range of challenges, Escobar says, including difficulty accessing supplies and prosthetics to help their patients. “They don’t have the ability to order from mainstream medical supply companies.”

The question then becomes, she adds, “How do we help people in the continuation of trauma injuries without supplies or resources or experience? Exploring the need was really impactful for me.”

Escobar’s video delves into ways that doctors and therapists can help hand trauma victims through the mental, physical and even spiritual aspects of a loss that impacts a person’s independence, career and overall quality of life. “As a therapist, you are the one who will meet them early on,” she says.

You can learn more about Escobar and Restore Performance LLC via this news release from Health News Today.