Speech-language therapy has proved to be not only life-changing for patients but a rewarding career for speech pathologists.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2008 and 2018, employment of speech-language pathologists is expected to grow by 19 percent, which is faster than average employment growth.
Speech-language pathologists work individually with patients to incorporate each of their special needs. Patients are taught to improve their voices by making sounds and performing vocal exercises such as strengthening muscles, that will enhance their speech capabilities.
These exercises are helpful for babies who were born with a disorder, or shortly after birth, develop one, all the way to adults who may suffer from a stroke and lose some, or all speech abilities.
Kristen Bond, a speech-language pathologist in Hillsborough County, works at a local elementary school and at a private pediatric therapy clinic.
She works with preK-fifth grade students that are language impaired, speech impaired, autistic, developmentally delayed, ADHD and have social communication difficulties. She also runs a weekly social group for children with Asperger’s and social communication difficulties.
In the clinic setting, Bond works with individuals in their home during a 60-minute period. Depending on the diagnosis of the patient, she uses certain skills and exercises.
“Being a speech pathologist has increased my appreciation and awareness of how lucky I am to have the skills and abilities to communicate effectively,” said Bond. “I appreciate that I am able to eat a meal without struggling and I am able to tell my family ‘I love you’ without needing a picture card to prompt me.”
Bond said her greatest reward being a speech pathologist is being challenged and having the opportunity to work with a variety of disorders and disabilities on a daily basis.
“It is a blessing to see the progress the children can make,” said Bond. “Sometimes it takes years, sometimes it takes weeks. It is a great feeling to give a parent and a child the skills to communicate and eat more effectively.”
Darla Freeman-LeVay has dedicated her time to helping others since she started as a clinical instructor at the University of South Florida in 2001.
Freeman-LeVay attended the University of Ohio where she received her graduate degree in speech pathology.
When she first moved to Florida, she started at Bay Front Medical Center in St. Petersburg, serving as their outpatient clinician. She said she has loved working in outpatient cognition serving all ages and populations.
“I’ve enjoyed that because I enjoy the diversity,” she said. “I definitely enjoy the challenge.”
Freeman-LeVay said one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the pace because things are constantly changing.
Out of all her work, voice disorders are her specialty. “That’s my passion, my love,” she said. “I try to take what I know about voice disorder and I try to transition that or bridge it or show how it impacts on every area that I work with.”
When Freeman-LeVay started as a clinical instructor at the University of South Florida, her first patient was Megan Felder, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 19-years-old and has been struggling with the disease for 16 years.
“I don’t know where I would be without her,” Felder said. “She’s changed my life.”
Freeman-LeVay received the Milestone Award last Saturday at the University of Central Florida in the College of Medicine for her selfless efforts in the fight for MS patients.
Dorris Lill, associate director of community development for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said Freeman-LeVay has been running a successful memory clinic at USF for years.
“In 2011 she really stepped things up and became relentless in her efforts to help people with MS,” Lill said.
Lill said, Freeman-LeVay has presented at many self-help groups in Tampa, along with hosting the chapter’s monthly teleconference, bringing her technique and guidance to hundreds of people with MS.
“I have truly enjoyed working with Darla,” Lill said. “The feedback we receive about her presentations is outstanding.”
Though modest, Freeman-LeVay jokingly admitted she knows how much effort she has put forth to help MS patients, and she too, feels that she deserves this award.
“You know you’re giving something that people are going to recognize, and you know they’re going to benefit from, and they really appreciate your services,” Freeman-LeVay said. “That gratitude is priceless.”
As an MS patient most grateful to Freeman-LeVay, Felder said she couldn’t think of anyone who deserves this award more. “She’s just amazing,” Felder said. “She’s like an angel.”
Florida is the No. 1 dispenser of prescription drugs in the United States, according to the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, leading to the highest number of deaths in the country for substance abuse.
Florida deaths from prescription drugs increased from 1,234 in 2003 to 2,488 in 2009, or 102 percent, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported.
The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at The University of South Florida is taking steps to prevent these sales and the overwriting of prescriptions and illegal drugs in Hillsborough County.
“We integrate everything we learn into the community, so we can help others in the best way we can,” said Dr. Catherine Batsche, interim dean for the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.
According to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, bus loads of out-of-state prescription drug seekers make their way to Florida, in a phenomenon called the Flamingo Express.
“Individuals purchase prescription drugs such as roxicodone, at $1 apiece at pill mills, then turn around and sell them on the streets for $30 apiece,” said Batsche. “These facilities are multi-million dollar corporations that are set up all over the state giving drug abusers the opportunity for easy accessibility. “It’s extraordinarily lucrative.”
One former roxicodone user is now helping USF in the battle. Rebeka, who asked that her last name not be used, was addicted to roxicodone and opiates, but now she helps individuals understand how she overcame the battle that so many struggle with.
“I give presentations,” said Rebeka. “Many drug addicts will go through a 12 month program, be sober in the program, and get out making calls to get high. Not me. So hopefully I can use my story to help.”
Rebeka was engaged to a roxicodone addict. After she gave birth to her first child she was immediately pressured by her fiancé to take roxys with him, mainly because she wouldn’t be arguing with him about his drug use. “I guess looking back I always had tendencies to be an addict, said Rebeka.”
Six months after her second child was born, Rebeka was arrested. The charge: obtaining oxycodone by fraud.
After losing everything and relapsing, Rebeka started the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office program to sober up. She was placed in heavy outpatient treatment, dosed on methodone daily. “I did treatment with open arms,” Rebeka said. “I put everything I had into it.”
Besides having guest speakers such as Rebeka talk to students and Tampa residents, the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences faculty works on many levels to help prevent substance abuse in the Tampa Bay area.
The faculty works with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in preventing sales in pill mills and on the streets. They also work with physicians to prevent overwriting of prescription drugs. In these substance abuse cases, unauthorized physicians hand out over-the-counter drugs to anyone who has the cash to purchase them.
“Students are given the opportunity to participate in the evaluating of treatment methods and to work with individuals firsthand,” Batsche said. For example, students have interviewed women who have had their children taken away due to their inability to become sober.
The faculty works in treatment centers with individuals who are addicted, whether their addiction is with legal or illegal drugs and alcohol. This treatment opportunity is provided by organizations such as the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office and the Agency for Community Treatment Services.
After an individual is arrested, he or she will attend drug court. Here, the judge will decide whether the individual will enter treatment or go to prison. “This is the most critical point for the individual,” said Dr. Kathleen Moore.
Moore, a research assistant professor in the Department of Mental Health, Law and Policy, is also a faculty member who is working with many research projects in Hillsborough County that deal with substance abuse and mental health. She is also principal investigator on three grants.
One in particular, Adult Drug Court Women Empowered and Coping with Addiction to Narcotics (WeCan!) is shared between both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, and the Florida Mental Health Institute. “It’s focused on female offenders in drug court whose drug of choice is prescription drugs,” said Moore.
For addicts like Rebeka, the pill mills make it too easy, but today she is a survivor.
“I became the person I was before the pills,” said Rebeka. “People don’t understand what it is like to crave something so much that you will throw everything aside just to get a hold of the drug that will make you feel better. Thank goodness, I will never feel like that again.”