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Occupational therapists with Creighton ties offer pro bono walk-in clinic

We don’t often take the time to appreciate our hands for all they do.

We use them for thousands of basic tasks, such as eating, cooking, driving and dressing ourselves. And we use them to connect with each other, with high fives, handshakes and pats on the back.

So when, because of injury or illness, we lose the use of our hands, it’s not only inconvenient. It’s isolating.

“If you live by yourself and you’re just looking at the wall, standing there thinking, ‘How am I going to get this shirt off?’ that’s an all-time low,” says Joey Kankovsky, OTD’16. “We want to help people get back to living their life before the injury and feeling comfortable with how they are now.”

For the past year, Kankovsky, and fellow occupational therapist and Creighton University alumna Jean Peck, BSOT’87, have been offering free upper extremity therapy for Omaha-area patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to rehabilitative care.

The pair’s walk-in pro bono clinic, Helping Hands of Omaha, is open from 5 to 7 p.m. every other Wednesday at Innovative Prosthetics and Orthotics, 9202 W. Dodge Road. The clinic welcomes teens and adults with conditions of the upper extremities -- shoulders to fingertips -- who have limited access to therapy for financial or other reasons. No referrals are necessary.

“I see people who need therapy but don’t get it, because they’re afraid that maybe they can’t pay for it, or their insurance doesn’t cover it, or maybe they’ve already met all of their maximum visits,” says Peck, a certified hand therapist with CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy and adjunct faculty member at Creighton.

“(A hand condition) is so limiting to their lifestyle. They can’t work. They can’t do any of the activities they’re used to doing. I just think it’s so important to them to get the best function they can out of their hands.”

Peck and Kankovsky first had the idea to open a pro bono clinic while Kankovsky was finishing his studies at Creighton, with Peck serving as his clinical instructor. The two discussed how health professionals in different disciplines -- dentists, chiropractors, medical doctors and others -- sometimes offer free treatment to underserved communities, and hoped to do the same as occupational therapists.

After Kankovsky graduated and established himself at an outpatient clinic in Omaha, he reached out to Peck about starting the clinic. For a time, the two saw patients at Omaha’s Open Door Mission, which serves the city’s homeless population.

“That was humbling because you’d see people come in with frostbite and (conditions) you wouldn’t imagine,” Kankovsky says. “Some people think that people who can’t find jobs, that it’s their own fault. But if someone has an injury that’s preventing them from becoming successful, that’s where we feel we’re helping them. We want the community to be more healthy, and we want to contribute more by making them healthy.”

It’s a mission Kankovsky says was instilled in him through years of Jesuit education, first as a high school student at Creighton Preparatory School and later during his graduate program at the University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

“We treat you like you should be treated. It’s not a money thing for us,” he says.

Peck and Kankovsky began seeing patients at Innovative Prosthetics in January after founder and CEO Rakesh Srivastava offered to let them use the space for free. Since then, they’ve seen a handful of patients with various conditions trickle in every two weeks. They hope to see more and more as word of the clinic spreads.

Helping HandsOn a recent day, Kankovsky led one visitor, Stephanie Beideck, through a series of exercises for her right arm. Beideck fell down the stairs in October 2018, shattering her humerus (the long bone of the upper arm) and necessitating a shoulder replacement. She’s been seeing Kankovsky at the clinic since January.

“I still am nervous going down the stairs,” Beideck said.

Even so, she’s made huge progress since starting therapy, Kankovsky said. During the session, he encouraged Beideck to place a bottle of hand sanitizer on a high cabinet shelf, requiring her to raise her injured arm above eye level. With just the slightest shake in her movement, Beideck completed the exercise -- a seemingly small accomplishment, but one that makes her life that much easier.

And she had Kankovsky to thank for it. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said.


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