As early as her teenage years, Lisa Kenyon, PT, DPT, PhD, knew she wanted her future to include working with children in some way. “When I was in high school, I did some volunteering with children with special needs and realized that this is what I wanted as a career,” Kenyon said. “Later, I just stumbled into physical therapy. It was the greatest “stumble” I’ve ever taken!”
A career that may have begun as a happenstance in Kenyon’s future developed into 33 years in physical therapy devoted to pediatrics. “When I was a relatively new therapist, I worked with a lot of children who were very involved physically, and we didn’t always know about their cognitive capabilities. It seemed to me that we needed to find better ways to try to help these children maximize their individual abilities,” Kenyon said. “For a time, I did a lot of power mobility training with the children to try to help them learn and develop from the exploration of their environment. Some of those children went on to be able to have a power chair, but some did not. It was a fulfilling to see some of the children learn skills such as ’cause and effect’ and ‘switch use’ that were helpful to their development outside of their power wheelchair training. That’s the work I’ve continued at Grand Valley State University.”
Kenyon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has been at the university for ten years and leads the Grand Valley Power Mobility Project, an inter-professional research and service project. “My research focuses on power mobility provision and use for infants, children, and young adults who have mobility impairments as well as possibly other developmental conditions that impact their mobility,” Kenyon said. “In addition to research, teaching is very important to me. I like to think that I am planting seeds of interest with my students and their future experiences will water those seeds and, hopefully, develop an interest in a seating and wheeled mobility practice.”
Kenyon is a valued presenter, both nationally and internationally, on topics related to pediatric physical therapist practice. She also develops and presents CEU courses for NRRTS. One of the most significant events in Kenyon’s career occurred in 2015 when she traveled to China to help build a framework to provide educational advancement for Chinese-trained therapists. Following the leadership of training at Kunming Medical University in Yunnan Province, Kenyon led a workshop in Beijing for therapists, doctors, and teachers addressing the use of manual handling techniques in facilitating a child’s movement and function. The workshop was hosted by the Beijing School for the Blind. In Beijing, she also provided training at Beijing Children’s Hospital. Olivia’s Place, an organization in China that provides multidisciplinary pediatric therapy services to children. (http://www.oliviasplace.org/) In an interview following the trip, Kenyon said, “I have developed a heart for China and see hope for a future that includes the availability of high-quality therapy services for children in China.”
Closer to home, Kenyon is closely involved with the Bay Cliff Health Camp on Lake Superior in northern Michigan (https://baycliff.org/). The camp is a therapy and wellness center for children and adults with physical disabilities. Bay Cliff holds summer therapy camps for children with orthopedic, speech, hearing, and vision disabilities. “Bay Cliff is a great place! I spend a week there each year along with some of my students,” Kenyon said. “It is a wonderful learning opportunity for the students, plus it is good for them to be associated with this outstanding organization devoted to helping children. We also have the bonus of spending time in the beautiful natural setting of the camp.”
Kenyon shared two fundamental principles that she believes are important for students and experienced therapists alike. “I believe we should always take advantage of as many opportunities to learn, observe, or interact as possible. Sometimes an experience only comes around once, and if you miss it, it is gone forever,” Kenyon said. Addressing the work of a physical therapist, Kenyon considers patients and their families collaborating partners in the search for solutions. “We need always to be mindful to listen to the children and their families. This allows us to better match assistive technology devices to true needs. It takes everyone involved in that patient’s care – not just one person or one therapist – to determine what is best for the patient. I believe the family is the key collaborator. My role as a therapist is to present them with options and then have them decide what is best.”
Kenyon and her husband, Tom, enjoy being outside as much as possible. “We enjoy all that Michigan has to offer. There are many parks and trails, and that’s where we spend much of our free time with our dog, Maska,” Kenyon said. “Tom is an excellent cook, so we also enjoy eating good food.” The couple has two daughters: Shanna, 28 years old and Alena, 25 years old. “Shanna lives in Germany with her husband and our six-month-old grandson. We get to facetime with them every morning! Alena, and our ‘grand dog,’ lives near us.”
An accomplished therapist and educator, Lisa Kenyon continues to be energized by her life’s work. “Physical therapy has enlarged my world, and through my work, I have experienced a great deal of joy in helping children and families. I continue to be in this work to see the smile on a child’s face, and on the face of their family, when that child realizes independence for the first time. It is remarkable to be a part of that transformation.” Kenyon said. “I also find great joy in helping prepare future generations of students to be able to provide the therapy and help the people that have come to mean so much to me – those children and their families.”
Lisa Kenyon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Kenyon, PT, DPT, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kenyon heads the Grand Valley Power Mobility Project, an inter-professional research and service project that provides power mobility training for children and young adults who are not typically considered to be candidates for power mobility use. Kenyon presents nationally and internationally on topics related to pediatric physical therapist practice and has published multiple journal articles and book chapters pertaining to topics in pediatrics. Kenyon currently serves on the Committee of Content Experts for the Pediatric Specialty Council of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.