Meet Caitlin Heino, Occupational Therapist at York Region Concussion Clinic
Ms Caitlin Heino graduated in biology and psychology from Queen’s University before completing her Masters in Occupational Therapy at McMaster. For over a year, she has been the dedicated, hardworking and well-loved occupational therapist (OT) at York Region Concussion Clinic. She reflects on her profession and shares how she finds balance between work and play.
Q: People are often not familiar with occupational therapy. How do you explain your profession simply put?
CH: I usually start off with what is occupation. So it’s broader than just thinking about one’s profession. Occupation is any meaningful activities whether it’s self-care, leisure, productivity… An occupational therapist’s job is to enable individuals to participate in that occupation. To essentially work with people with a specific goal to help them get back into those things that mean a lot to them to do. For example, OTs can work in a variety of
settings. For me it’s about managing fatigue, coming up with strategies to manage symptoms, addressing mood, stress, cognition… There’s a whole variety of ways that you can get someone back into that occupation or activity. And that’s the goal.
Q: How did you decide to become an OT?
CH: I knew I wanted to work in healthcare but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. So when I was in my fourth year [of undergrad] I was starting to think about what to do afterwards. I remembered reading a few papers that were published by or mentioned OTs so that’s something I started thinking about slowly. Also my childhood best friend’s mother was an OT that worked in brain injury. And hearing about her job and what she had to do day to day sounded very cool. I decided on OT for that but also for the diversity, the breadth. So within my profession I can work in hand therapy or stroke rehab, or in developing policy, or in concussion!
Q: Talking about concussions, how did your interest for brain injury spark?
CH: It sort of developed overtime. In university it started off with psych 101, I really loved the neuroscience section. Then from there I took a lot of neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology courses. I thought the brain was just fascinating. It’s the most important part of the human body and the only one that studies itself which is really cool! Essentially I loved cognition and neuroscience. In the last year of my masters, I had a placement in a concussion clinic at Holland-Bloorview which I absolutely loved. And that’s something that really stood out to me. I also had a few concussions especially as a kid and a few of them were experiences that I really remembered and stood out to me. So a little bit of personal experience and a little bit of fascination with the field.
Q: What has been your most challenging case since you started working in concussions?
CH: They are all so unique and challenging in their own ways, which I love. I think it’s the
cases where I feel there is something bigger going on, or something that I maybe don’t understand. It’s fun, I love challenge. There is one case that really stands out, a client with a functional movement disorder. It’s such an interesting loop that it throws us. Because of all of the muscle jerks we can’t do so many things that we typically do:
visual therapy, vestibular therapy, biofeedback… It will be difficult just based on her condition.
Q: And the most interesting case you encountered so far?
CH: Anything that’s different. I love when people come in and give me a symptom, an activity or an occupation that they’re trying to get back to, something that is completely different than everyone else. There are a lot [of cases] that are similar and that’s just I guess the nature of the injury and of people. But there are a few that are so different. For example, one client is a singer so working on reading music, singing, and playing the piano… that’s something that I don’t get to do with anyone else, which is really cool!
Q: If you had to give one piece of advice for managing concussion, what would it be?
CH: Balance. That’s the thing I tell almost everybody. It’s all about finding that balance between activity and rest. Because if you do too much, you’re not going to recover. If you do too little, you’re also not going to recover. It’s sounds like such a simple, easy thing but it’s not. I think everybody struggles to find that balance. The best success that I had with that is using analogies with physical injuries. So when I’m talking to patients, using that broken leg as an analogy. If you keep running, it’s not going to heal. If you don’t do anything, it’s also not going to heal. If you don’t have that balance, everything becomes so much more difficult.
Q: So how do you achieve that balance?
CH: Today was TV. Everything that I can do to stay active, I really love. Sports, yoga, dance, hiking… skiing is my big one. Downhill and cross country are both things that I absolutely love. I go to the gym quite a lot. Anything with sports and team atmosphere is good. But also things that are a little bit more stereotypical, nerdy, dorky. I like board games with friends. I love fantasy novels, watching movies, trivia nights in bars… Really just any social activities and spending time with friends and family.
3 fun facts about Caitlin
1. She does not eat tomatoes: Although not allergic herself, all her grandmother’s sisters are allergic.
2. She speaks Finnish.
3. She is a worm rescuer: “It was such a big thing for me when I was little. I had to save them. I would carry a bucket around the neighbourhood to keep them all off the road and then throw them into the conservation area. Even now, everytime it rains, I always look down. I don’t want to step on a snail or a worm!”