This year’s Region 8 District Basketball tournament in Mequon on March 3rd, 2019 included the Fit Feet clinic as part of Healthy Athletes. During the clinic, 82 athletes were screened by 23 medical volunteers. One of those volunteers was Dr. Josephine Lyons, who has been a Special Olympics Fit Feet volunteer since 2013. But this year, Dr. Lyons, who is currently in residency at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, served as the Fit Feet clinical director for the first time. We sat down with Dr. Lyons for a Q&A about her past experiences and her experiences with Fit Feet. We are excited to have her as our newest clinical director!
SOWI: Why did you initially choose to start volunteering with Special Olympics?
Dr. Lyons: I began volunteering with Special Olympics when I was in high school. Volunteering was a part of our education and Special Olympics was one of the opportunities offered to us. Everyone who had done it (before I) always talked about what a rewarding experience it is, so I decided to give it a try. When I was in podiatry school I was presented with the opportunity to do Fit Feet screenings. I was very excited about this because it combined my professional skills with the Special Olympics population.
“I enjoy combining my clinical expertise with my enjoyment of Special Olympics. The athletes are so enthusiastic and happy to be involved.”
SOWI: Do you have any memories that stand out in terms of seeing the impact your work has on Special Olympics athletes?
Dr. Lyons: I had a 3-year old patient with down-syndrome who came for a foot check. He was wheeled up in his wagon by his mom, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to get out to have his feet examined. His mother was concerned about his gait, so we needed him to walk for us. I decided to make a game out of running to the corner and back and he instantly left his wagon and wanted to participate. He gave high-fives and was so happy to have volunteers cheering for him. We were able to give him his exam and reassure his mom.
SOWI: Can you tell me a little bit about what your Train the Trainer workshop in California was like?
Dr. Lyons: The workshop in California was great: It brought providers from all corners of the country together with the directors of Special Olympics. We had a small group, so we were able to spend time talking about all of the practice differences and similarities we experience. We were able to discuss logistics for each of our regions and get to know each other. As part of the training we led a screening event in Southern California. This was great because we got to put our newly-learned skills to the test. There were several hundred athletes and it was very busy, but rewarding.
SOWI: How was your first clinic as a Clinical Director different from the previous clinics you volunteered for?
Dr. Lyons: Overall the work day-of was very similar: I have always tried to take time to instruct student volunteers and contribute my time to set-up and tear-down. I think the main difference was my interaction with the parents and coaches. After going to the training session and being an official Clinical Director, I felt a sense of confidence in introducing myself and saying “hello, I’m Dr. Lyons. I am the clinical director today!”
“This is a population who may not always speak up about foot discomfort. Caretakers should be aware and remind athletes to check their feet and speak up if they notice anything that does not feel right.”
SOWI: What do you enjoy about working Fit Feet clinics?
Dr. Lyons: I enjoy combining my clinical expertise with my enjoyment of Special Olympics. The athletes are so enthusiastic and happy to be involved. I enjoy the connection that is made between the volunteers and the athletes: the athletes and their trainers/families get to experience the benefits that podiatry and regular foot care can offer, and the volunteers get to experience the event through the eyes of the athlete- with positivity and drive.
SOWI: Why is foot health so important and so often overlooked by Special Olympics athletes and/or their caretakers?
Dr. Lyons: Foot health is very important for Special Olympics Athletes. Shoes are difficult to find: many athletes are wearing improperly fitted or oversized shoes to compensate for needed width. Some athletes will wear shoes that have broken down to the point of non-function, because they are known and comfortable. Quite a few athletes have issues with sweaty feet and either don’t wear socks or wear socks that do not wick moisture. Many athletes have variable foot structures and could benefit from orthotics, but have never been exposed to this type of product.
This is a population who may not always speak up about foot discomfort. Caretakers should be aware and remind athletes to check their feet and speak up if they notice anything that does not feel right.
SOWI: Why do you think it’s important for people in the medical community to be involved in Healthy Athletes clinics?
Dr. Lyons: I think it is extremely rewarding for medical personnel for be involved with Healthy Athletes clinics! It is of mutual benefit to providers and the athletes themselves. Too often providers get into a routine of only seeing patients in clinic. These days can become monotonous, seeing patient after patient -sometimes disgruntled- inside in an office with a whole host of notes waiting at the end of the day. Healthy Athletes offers a different venue in which to use one’s medical training, with tangible benefits to the athletes. The athletes are so enthusiastic and appreciative. This joy is contagious, and can help reinvigorate a provider. There are also a multitude of benefits for the athletes: they get to have exams from different and important specialties. It creates a connection not only for follow-up care but for overall health and wellness.
“Athletes with intellectual disabilities are often very interested in their own care. They want to know what is being done and why. When taught to be proactive about their healthcare needs, they can be their own best advocates.”
SOWI: What are some misconceptions or misunderstandings people have about people with intellectual disabilities and their health care?
Dr. Lyons: One myth is that all athletes with intellectual disabilities function at a 5-year old’s understanding level.
People with intellectual disabilities come at all levels of understanding. It is tempting to assume all athletes with ID understand at the level of a young child, but this is not always the case: there is a range of abilities -both physical and mental- within the Special Olympics athlete population.
Another myth is that people with ID are uninterested in their healthcare or always need assistance with health care needs. Athletes with intellectual disabilities are often very interested in their own care. They want to know what is being done and why. When taught to be proactive about their healthcare needs, they can be their own best advocates. Many Special Olympics athletes are better medical historians than patients without ID. They are interested and can be highly independent when it comes to regular check-ups or daily monitorings.
Another myth is that you need special training to care for a patient with special needs or an intellectual disability. The best training is patience. While there are certifications that can assist or advise with how to best treat a given subset of individuals, any medical provider can give appropriate and beneficial care with patience and understanding. Explanations may take more time, consents may be more drawn out, level of understanding may vary from patient to patient, but any skilled provider should feel confident that this interaction will be similar to others. All they need is a bit of time, a welcoming smile, and some accessible metaphors and the experience will be rewarding for both provider and patient.