Helping people never give up
The Lutheran Foundation has received multiple Circle of Care gifts in honor of Jeri Schmelzel, DPT, CLT-LANA, and it is no wonder. The most recent contribution came from a patient Jeri has cared for over 17 years, which is just shy of the 19 years that Jeri has been with Lutheran.
The grateful patient commented that Jeri is outstanding, special, and one of the most supportive people at Lutheran, adding that she is loving, caring, and helpful.
Jeri has been a physical therapist for 34 years and a CLT (Certified Lymphedema Therapist) for 16 years. Jeri says, "I didn't choose the oncology field. The oncology field chose me."
Jeri was instrumental in founding the Lymphedema Clinic, which opened at Lutheran in July 2007. She explains that the dedicated clinic grew from a 20-hour-a-week program to having three full-time PTs who are all Certified Lymphedema Therapists. The clinic also has expanded its care to include oncology rehabilitation. Jeri appreciates that Lutheran Oncology recognizes that physical therapy adds value to a patient's best functional outcome and regards PTs as integral members of the team.
The clinic treats swelling from many causes. About 70 percent of patients are cancer patients; however, not all experience swelling. The team also works with patients after cancer surgeries, like mastectomies, to regain joint range of motion and strength or work to help patients with balance and fatigue issues caused by chemotherapy. Some swelling /lymphedema patients do not have cancer; their swelling is due to trauma and injury to the lymphatic system or circulation problems.
Lymphedema is not a widely known ailment, and while awareness and the specialty are growing, the Lymphedema Clinic is a niche program whose caregivers understand the condition well and continue to educate on what lymphedema is and how to treat it effectively.
When recalling an impactful story during her career, Jeri shared the story of a patient with obesity-related lymphedema who came into her care. The patient, who had wounds and severe swelling in both legs, was losing hope and felt that nobody knew what lymphedema was or how to treat it.
During the first visit, the patient said, "Every other caregiver has given up on me; I almost died from my leg infections. I hope you don't give up on me." Jeri responded, "You don't give up on me, and I will never give up on you!" She successfully treated the patient, getting the wounds closed and swelling reduced, stating, "And I never gave up on her."
Caregivers like Jeri help patients navigate health challenges and encourage them through tough times. They are often the voice that helps people persevere, making it possible for our community members to strive to live their healthiest lives possible.