What’s Cooking? Transplant Patient’s Kitchen Therapy

Double transplant patient Sierra Fowler works with occupational therapists to build her strength and basic care skills so she can live independently – part of that means cooking in the kitchen at University Hospital.

It may seem like a simple task to some but for Sierra Fowler, 20, every movement is performed with effort. She was recently hospitalized with an infection and is retraining her body to perform everyday routines. As part of that retraining she is cooking lunch in a kitchen at IU Health University Hospital.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, a time to recognize practitioners who help patients regain that independence that Fowler is seeking. At University Hospital that team includes Lauren Busby, Greta Slabach, and Emily Winslow.

“Often the things people take for granted – the things we do every day is what we focus on. It’s important to me to help them regain that independence. We do a lot of simulated tasks that help them focus on reaching and balance,” said Busby.

Working with an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, social workers and other clinicians, occupational therapists help the patient set goals toward maintaining a healthy active lifestyle.

“Basically, we want the patient to be safe at home,” said Slabach.

Born with polycystic kidney disease, Fowler of Evansville was two when she received a new kidney from her mother. Eight years later she received a liver transplant. When she was stricken with chicken pox, the organs began to fail. Fowler received a second kidney and liver transplant last November under the care of transplant surgeons Drs. Chandrashekhar Kubal and William Goggins.

During her recent hospital stay, Fowler focused on building her strength and endurance. Occupational therapists helped her with that goal. That included such tasks as bathing, dressing, and cleaning.

For Fowler, it also meant spending time in the kitchen, a place that gives her comfort and consistency. She spent years watching her grandfather, a chef; deliver his specialties to the table. One of her favorites was peach cobbler.

As she boiled water on the stovetop to make noodles, Fowler listened to instructions from Winslow. When the pot was too heavy for Fowler to lift, Winslow encouraged her to adapt by sliding the pot. They talked about Fowler’s other favorite activities – drawing and listening to music, and her plans when she leaves the hospital.

“With basic self care we talk a lot about having a daily schedule,” said Winslow. She talked to Fowler about grocery shopping and asked her if she tired easily.

“I really want to do things at home on my own but sometimes I’m afraid,” said Fowler. “I want to get strong enough that I can wash my own hair and ride my bike around the block.”For today, she’s working on making a light lunch – noodles with sauce.

“Maybe soon I’ll be able to make Papaw’s peach cobbler.”

–By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
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 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.