Trevor Irion sat in his physical therapy classes, taking notes, working in lab and practicing on his classmates.
Then he went home and put all his knowledge to use again, helping the most important patient he’ll ever work with—his mother.
Irion, who will graduate this month from NAU’s doctorate of physical therapy program, was a month short of finishing his bachelor’s degree in 2017 and split between going to grad school in Colorado or enrolling in the Denver firefighter academy. Then he got a call that changed everything—his mother, Shari, a marathon runner, was out for a regular morning run when a truck hit her in an intersection.
After five months, she pulled out of the coma, and in 11 months cycled through five long-term care and rehabilitation facilities. Irion moved from Colorado to Gilbert and he and his sisters took care of their mother, who had to relearn to walk and talk. During rehab, Irion worked with two standout providers—one was a graduate of NAU’s PT program and the other was currently in the DPT program.
“Not only were they very smart and capable people, but they had this confidence in their own knowledge and abilities that really led me to look more into NAU’s PT program,” he said.
Knowing this, Irion took the work he’d put into applying to other grad programs and applied to NAU. While still caring for his mother, he started classes at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. His coursework, especially neurology classes, were “complete eye-openers for me,” he said.
“I had been taking care of my mom and doing some home PT with her for almost a year by the time I started PT school, and all of a sudden when I started these classes I had so many new manual therapy techniques and neuro-specific exercises that I could bring to my mom’s rehab and help with her residual deficits,” he said. “Not only was I able to practice these manual techniques and practice dosing, progressing and regressing exercises, but all of these treatments were things that my mom was not able to be doing once COVID started, as she could not go to her regular PT sessions. It was a great feeling to be able to bring what I was learning in school and to apply it right away with my mom and also to see the benefits right away.”
Irion and his three sisters have tag-teamed on being primary caregiver for their mother; two are in the medical field and Regan, the youngest, earned a degree in psychology from NAU and now is the primary caregiver. Kimberly, who is No. 3, said they’ve all seen him grow in confidence and ability as he continued his studies and put what he learned into action.
“From the beginning, Trevor was very involved in her care and was always wanting to observe her PT and OT sessions and would ask questions of the professionals to ensure that he was doing all that he could to help our mom,” she said. “We have all now been able to watch as he becomes closer and closer to actually being the professional who can answer such questions.”
Oldest sister Kelly, who is an occupational therapist, agreed.
“I think Trevor’s experience as both a therapist and a caregiver has given him a unique perspective that makes him a strong patient advocate and an incredibly supportive practitioner,” she said. “He has a beautiful way of seeing his patients’ potential and finding unique and purposely ways of motivating them to reach that potential.”
In the classroom, Irion experienced the same low as everyone else graduating this year. The pandemic sent his class to virtual learning, which drastically changed how he interacted with his classmates and professors and lessened the amount of time spent in the lab. He appreciated how open his professors were to feedback, he said; it was clear they wanted to make sure students didn’t miss out and did all they could to meet the various needs. Looking back, he said, the people in the classroom with him made such a difference in his education.
“Most of the highlights of my time at NAU involve the classmates that were around me and the culture that the professors created in class and in lab,” he said. “It was a great feeling that first year being in a big lab room with skilled professionals teaching you the foundational knowledge as well as giving clinical gems from their years of experience. I cannot speak highly enough of all of the professors that I interacted with at NAU—they were extraordinary.”
Pam Bosch, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training, taught Irion and saw him bring his inherent empathy and positivity to the patients with whom he worked and his willingness to share his knowledge with his classmates.
“When we discussed pathological conditions and his mom had experienced them, Trevor would contribute to discussions by giving the personal perspective of it,” she said. “In labs, when we discussed various types of rehab equipment or transfer strategies, Trevor was able to provide insights into implications for the patient or family. His insights were measured and matter-of-fact and really contributed to group discussions.”
She’s excited for Irion to enter the industry, Bosch said; his knowledge and love for the work will benefit all of his patients.
Irion takes the board exam in January;
he’s not sure yet where he goes from there. He’s interested in both in-patient acute care and outpatient rehab, so he plans to interview at several places and in different care settings and figure out which is the best fit for him right now.
And his first patient? Shari continues to improve. Despite residual impairments from a traumatic brain injury to the temporal lobe and bilateral cerebrovascular strokes, she is able to communicate and is working on walking again.
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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