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DPT Pro Bono Clinic Helps Peruvian Woman Walk Again

by Janelle Hill M’23 Jan 5, 2024
DPT Pro Bono Clinic

Asteria Cordero is seated in her wheelchair as her daughter brings her into the DeSales Community Wellness and Physical Therapy Clinic. The 94-year-old, who could barely move just two months ago, is at the tail end of a long and painful recovery.

Once inside, Joseph White ’20, D’24, a sport and exercise physiology graduate now in his third year of the doctor of physical therapy program, greets Cordero by shaking her hand.

“I’m going to roll you back a little and we’re going to start walking,” White tells her through an online interpreter as he places a cane next to her wheelchair. 

He instructs her to grip the cane with her right hand before lifting herself out of the wheelchair to stand. He then snaps a blue plastic belt around her waist, as they begin to navigate around foam pads placed on the floor. 

Cordero steps slowly, one foot in front of the other, as White gently grips her shoulder and the back of the blue belt. “You’re looking really good today,” he tells her. 

Cordero is from Peru and only speaks Spanish. Just four days after she arrived in the United States to visit her daughters, she fell and fractured her left femur in three places. She underwent surgery but didn’t have insurance to cover physical therapy. Staff at the hospital told her daughter Carmen about DeSales’ new pro bono clinic, which opened to the public last March. 

“It’s a great help to have this opportunity to come here to the University because there are a lot of people who cannot get insurance,” says Carmen, who lives in nearby Quakertown. “My mother is very happy, and she has been improving a lot since she started doing therapy here.” 

White and his fellow DPT students have been working to get Cordero back to bearing weight on her left leg. They practice balance and walking to build up her endurance. During the session, which is Cordero’s final one before returning home to Peru, she practices sit to stand exercises and stepping up onto a foam block. 

“This is going to be like getting on the airplane,” White tells her as she steps up onto the block. After initially struggling, Cordero completes the exercise before admitting she needs a little more practice. By the end of the hourlong session, she feels strong enough to walk out of the clinic using a walker instead of her wheelchair. 

Cordero and her daughter thank White and Jessica Watson ’15, D’18, assistant professor, and hand them each a small gift and a box of chocolates to show their appreciation. 

“They have taken really good care of me, and I feel very relieved,” Cordero says. “It has been a huge help, and I really appreciate it.”

The DeSales Community Wellness and Physical Therapy Clinic is open to both children and adults and is located in Chappuis Hall. It aims to serve patients who are uninsured, underinsured, or those with barriers to access. All three cohorts of DPT students—first year, second year, and third year—work together under faculty supervision.

“Just from this clinic alone, I’m getting to see the holistic approach to therapy that you can be that person for your patients,” says White. “You can be their therapist, but you can also be their advocate and their educator. It makes me feel proud that I can serve people in such a way.”