Healthy Kids - Winter 2023

taught those basic things, but when you

Southern California with pediatric hand therapists,” says Dr. Hinchcliff. Because a hand therapy certification is so time- intensive, not many people opt to pursue it, Dr. Hinchcliff says. “But it’s very subspecialized care that Rady Children’s offers, and it’s really important, because if you send these kids to adult hand therapists, they’re not going to get the same result that they will from someone who is trained in pediatrics,” she says. Without a specialist like Hoover, Ella’s case may have had a different outcome. “Plus, the personality of a hand therapist and a hand surgeon overlaps a lot,” Dr. Hinchcliff says. “People who go for hand therapy, they’re interested in complicated therapy that results in high- level function. That’s our goal: to try to get patients back to functioning at a high level.” To achieve this high level of function, Hoover relies on splinting—using thermoplastic splints she creates herself—to set the hand and adapt to growth and changes in function. It’s a special skill that she honed while getting her certification. “In OT school we have a lab, and they teach us basic splinting where we draw a pattern using the landmarks of the hand and then we cut it out of a thermoplastic and custom mold it to a patient,” she explains. “We are

go out in the field, you’re never going to be making splints. You get the education, but you probably therapist comes in. Now, I spend 40 percent of my day making splints.” Splints, plus motivational activities like darts, therapy putty and rubber- band shooting that she customizes to each child are what help Hoover’s patients, like Ella, achieve extraordinary success. “Therapy is an art. Everyone don’t get that practice. That’s where the hand is different and you have to tap into what motivates them,” she says. “Overall, cases like Ella’s are why I love what I do. Working with the families and seeing the progress. Coming up with fun things for the kids to do and seeing their excitement and how much they use their extremity even with their limitations. And finally, seeing how excited they get to

A Helping Hand Denise Hoover, OTR/L, CHT, did not set out to be a hand therapist. In fact, she didn’t even intend to be an occupational therapist. She started as a physical therapy major and then switched to occupational therapy—a profession, she says, she found compelling. “You have to be creative to find activities that will motivate someone, specifically a kid, who experienced a traumatic injury,” she explains. After working at Rady Children’s for nearly two decades, treating kids with autism, handwriting difficulties and a variety of other therapeutic needs, Hoover was encouraged to seek specialized training in hand therapy. “It seemed like the perfect combination of occupational therapy and physical therapy,” she says. So, 13 years ago, she decided to go for it, which meant five years of training for a certification. Hoover is now the only practicing pediatric certified hand therapist in San Diego and is currently training four others. “That’s a unique thing about Rady Children’s in general— they are the only place in

be able to use their hand the same way they did

Without a specialist like Hoover, Ella’s case may have had a different outcome.

before. People amaze me

every day with what they’re able to achieve and overcome.”

Denise Hoover, OTR/L, CHT


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