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Friday, April 15, 2011

Love's Lingering Fingertips: A Sister's Story.

Love’s Lingering Fingertips: A Sister’s Story

“Due to you I now see myself in a positive view
I see myself conquering mountains and calming winds
I see myself exploring the ocean as if I had fins
I’m beginning to slip so make your grip a little tighter
With your hand in mine I know I can be a fighter
With your hand in mine my future always looks a little brighter"

- Hand in Hand

These words are forever etched in Dana Richmond’s mind. It has been almost three years since her sister’s death, but her younger sister never strays far from her thoughts. “I never thought that she would pass away,” Richmond says, thinking about her sister’s published poem “Hand to Hand”. “She was only fifteen when she died, but she accomplished so much in that time.”

Lauren Richmond was diagnosed with a chordoma brain tumor at the age of ten, a very rare disease which only strikes three hundred people in the United States. Richmond watched her sister go through brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and occupational therapy. “She never complained, and at the hospitals with all the kids, she never saw herself as sick; she always wanted to help the other kids,” Richmond states, citing that if her sister received a new stuffed animal, she would always give it to another child in the hospital. “She had such a big heart.”

“I was thirteen when she was diagnosed…and I had full faith in the doctors,” Richmond says. “I understood that the situation was serious and I understood her diagnosis,” which was not a good prognosis, but Dana continued to believe in the strength of her sister. “I watched her work with her occupational therapist, and therapy really helped her through her recovery and into remission.”

Dana left to attend Elizabethtown College in the fall of 2008, but her sister had a relapse. “She became sick again a week after I left for school... I went home every weekend to spend time with her. I wish I would have realized sooner that the treatment wasn’t going to work.” Lauren Richmond passed away on December 20th, 2008 after a five year battle with brain cancer.

In seeing her sister undergo numerous treatments for her brain tumor, Richmond knew she wanted to explore a field in healthcare. “At first I thought I wanted to pursue physical therapy, but I found that physical therapy is very straightforward [in its procedures].” Richmond stated that if two people tear their ACLs, the physical therapist will treat both people very similarly.

Occupational therapy is quite different. “Occupational therapy is more about creativity,” Richmond stated. “What might work for one patient might not work for another, so you always have to be thinking on your feet.” According to Dana, her sister played a large part in her decision to research degrees in occupational therapy. “I full-heartedly believe Lauren’s occupational therapist helped her live longer; her therapist was always so friendly, and I knew from that experience that I wanted to explore the field more.”

In pursuit of discovering more information about occupational therapy, Richmond attended an open house at Scranton University which is known for its occupational therapy department. “I just remember the professors’ passion when they talked about the subject, and I knew in listening I wanted to be a part of it.”

Richmond also explored Misericordia University’s occupational therapy program. “All of my applications [for college] were in by October,” Richmond stated, laughing. “My mom really pushed me to get ahead on everything.” Although Richmond is currently enrolled at Elizabethtown, the college wasn’t always at the top of Dana’s list. “E-town came in the running late in the game. I heard about how good the occupational therapy program was through my high school counselor.” When Richmond visited the private liberal-arts college, she was sold. “Everyone was friendly at E-town. At Misericordia, no offense to them, they just an air of arrogance. E-town isn’t like that.”

Although Richmond was convinced occupational therapy was the right track for her before she got to college, once she hit the classroom, doubt crept in a little. “As a first year, you take OT 111, the introductory occupational therapy course along with biology. That first semester is a big jump, and some people sink, others swim. At first I thought, ‘Oh my God, what was I thinking?’, but I soon came to love the class and the arts and crafts we designed as treatments for patients.” Richmond says the course load was a shock to her, but in looking back on it, her first year was easy in comparison to her courses now. “You need to walk before you can run,” Richmond says, smiling.

Occupational therapy at Elizabethtown, Richmond stated, is different than most other universities; at Elizabethtown, the department is a five year Master’s degree. “In order to remain in the program, you have to keep a 3.0 GPA and do field placements your last three years.”

Currently, Richmond is working with elderly patients at a hospital in Camp Hill. “I love working with the patients. Most of them are there for orthopedic care for hip replacements or other surgeries… I hope to leave my handprint on someone in my life. To touch people like my sister did in such a short period of time, I would be lucky to touch people like that.” In the future, Richmond aspires to help her patients get back to functioning at the state they were before an accident or an illness. “[In being an occupational therapist], I am “able [to] do what [I] love…and that means the world to people.”

Over the summer, Richmond is taking her occupational therapy experience abroad. “I’m going to Vietnam for three weeks with Dr. McFarland. I’m really looking forward to helping in the orphanages.” Richmond has always dreamed of traveling, but she lives her life enjoying each day as it comes.

“I learned from Lauren to live each day to its fullest. I love quotes,” Richmond says with a smile as she talks about the abundance of quotations hanging in her bedroom. “I live by the quote ‘A person might not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel’… [Lauren] made me feel loved,” which is a feeling Richmond will never forget. Richmond attributes her goals of striving to be an occupational therapist to her sister’s determination to accomplish so much in the short time she lived. “She always pushed me to do better.”

Hanging from Richmond’s neck is a silver necklace with a small pendent dangling from the thin, elegant chain. “Not a day goes by that I do not think of [Lauren]… I wear [this] necklace every day, and it is her fingerprint [on the pendent].” While Dana and Lauren can no longer walk hand in hand, every day the two sisters walk together, heart to heart.

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