Before Skye Rymill was born, a devastating event changed her family’s life. Decades later, it would inform the work she is doing today as an occupational therapist for people in need.
“In 1956, my father Patrick became disabled,” says Skye. “He was a motorsport race marshal and was hit by a car and just smashed to pieces. His injuries were so extensive that the medical personnel wanted to amputate his legs. He was just 26, doing his articles year at law school. Then, within a split second, he was this broken body, consigned to laying on his back for months.
“Rehabilitation was so primitive back then, almost non-existent. When he emerged from hospital, he had a walking stick and that was about it. The rest of his life was spent dealing with pain, cortisone and limbs that broke so easily.
“Yet for all that, Dad had an amazing strength about him. He once told me that disability was an obstacle, not a sentence. I look back and can see how his example helped sow and nurture the seed that led me to OT.”
The seed took time to flower. Skye was a 40-year-old mature-aged student when she enrolled in a Bachelor of Health (Occupational Therapy) at Southern Cross University’s Gold Coast campus. But she thrived.
“I loved my time at Southern Cross University,” she says. “It was inclusive, kind and it gave me the professional skills for a career in a field that values all those qualities.”
After graduating in 2018, Skye returned to her home state of South Australia where she is now an occupational therapist in the Barossa Valley township of Tanunda.
Interestingly, cars and driving play an important role in Skye’s professional life, due to her involvement in, and advocacy for, OT-based support systems around driver assessment, vehicle modification, adaptive and assistive technology, functional capacity and driver training and retraining.
“Driving Accredited OT requires additional training and assessment via the Occupational Therapy Driver Assessor’s Course,” said Skye. “This usually comprises a minimum of being two years post-graduation, pre-drive cognitive assessments and on-road observations which inform recommendations.”
Passionate and focused, Skye is making a transformative contribution for people who, like her father, have been severely injured in motor vehicle accidents or other devastating events. She works closely with amputees, the wheelchair-bound, stroke victims and people with autism or cerebral palsy. Looking ahead, she would like to explore upper limb and hand therapy for stroke survivors.
“Independence, dignity and accessibility are important factors for everyone in life, especially for people impacted by traumatic injury or clinical disorder,” says Skye. “A driver’s licence speaks to a sense of freedom and purpose. Of recognition and recovery.
“I saw that in my dad when I was a girl. He just loved driving and being with him, watching how he managed his issues, sparked my interest in the processes and technology that could make driving possible for people with significant life challenges.”
However, noble as the aim may be, costs are high and funding is sparse.
“Vehicle modification is an expensive process and there are also government requirements around vehicle type, age and operation,” says Skye. “For example, a car needs to be able to provide eight years of operational validity after being modified, which means it must be relatively new from the outset. For people on the NDIS, it can be difficult enough to make ends meet. That is why more funding is a priority.”
“Allied Health is an area where the emotional impact is high, especially in OT, and having empathy with people is vital. I want to make a positive difference for people,” she says.
Learn more about studying Occupational Therapy at Southern Cross University.
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