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Speech-Language Pathologist Dedicated to Helping Patients Find Ways to do Things They Never Thought They'd do Again 

Behind the Scenes with Danielle Gordon, MS, SLP 

By the time patients with stroke, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and other debilitating conditions are under the care of Danielle Gordon, MS, SLP, they’ve often heard about all the things they will never be able to do again.

“Maybe they aren’t going to talk the same way as before. Maybe they aren’t going to eat the same way as before. Speech-language pathologists play a big role in reassuring people that you’re going to be able to do these things again, but it’s just going to be a little different,” said Danielle.

VNA Care’s speech-language pathologists (SLPs) focus on patients needing therapy at home for challenges with communication, such as slurred speech; swallowing; and cognition, including memory and problem solving. Of the many goals she helps patients achieve, one of her favorites is helping people with swallowing disorders progress to eating a specific food.

“Food and eating are such a big part of our day-to-day lives. If somebody has trouble swallowing, it can be really disruptive to their social life, especially in younger people with degenerative diseases like MS,” said Danielle.

She remembered a patient with a swallowing disorder who had a gastrostomy tube, also known as a G-tube, which delivers nutrition through a tube directly to the stomach. The patient could only eat ice chips and lollipops. His goal was to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his family instead of watching everyone else enjoy their meal. Danielle and the patient worked together on exercises, and his efforts paid off. By the holiday, he was able to have pureed foods, which meant he could eat mashed potatoes, squash, and other foods being served at this special family gathering.

Danielle first saw the impact SLPs have on people’s lives when a loved one was receiving speech therapy. A college student at the time, Danielle changed her business major to pursue a bachelor’s and then a master’s in speech-language pathology.

Her studies included a clinical rotation at VNA Care where she gained exposure to the field of home health care while shadowing an SLP for several months. VNA Care partners with numerous colleges to offer educational opportunities such as this in home health, palliative, and hospice care for future rehabilitation therapists, nurses, and nurse practitioners.

While she’s worked in skilled nursing, outpatient, and inpatient facilities, “home care is my favorite setting by far. You’re able to personalize the treatment in a way that makes the most sense for the patient. If someone has aphasia (a language disorder that impacts communication due to brain damage), you can use the pictures they have on the wall to talk about their grandchildren or their travel rather than stock photos or items in a hospital room. I think patients do a lot better in the home setting,” said Danielle.

She’s been part of very touching moments, like helping someone with aphasia learn to say a loved one’s name again, and “graduating” a person with Parkinson’s Disease from therapy when he mastered speaking loudly enough that others could hear and understand them.

Danielle collaborates with her team including physical and occupational therapists, to help patients achieve their goals. A patient may want to master going from a seated position in their wheelchair to standing. The physical therapist will focus on helping the patient be able to stand through therapeutic exercises, but that may not be enough. Some patients have difficulty remembering the steps to safely stand, so Danielle will create a visual aid or mnemonic device to help the patient remember the process.

“My job is to help them verbally repeat the steps, not actually do the steps. We can get more repetitions in than would be appropriate in a physical therapy session,” said Danielle.

She will sometimes make joint visits with her colleagues to work with patients on improving certain skills. One of Danielle’s patients had a brain tumor that impacted her balance, speech, memory and other cognitive issues. Danielle and an occupational therapist used the patient’s love for cooking as a therapeutic opportunity. They gathered in the patient’s kitchen to bake chocolate bread.

“I was helping the patient remember the steps and making sure she could do them in the right order. I had her say the steps out loud because the patient was also having difficulty speaking. The occupational therapist was working on balance and upper body issues,” remembered Danielle. “When you have the patient multi-tasking, and a SLP is there working closely with OT, it really pushes what we can do for the patient.”

“I like being able to help people do the things they didn’t think they’d be able to do again,” said Danielle. “That’s my favorite part of being a speech therapist.”

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