ImpactSpring 2015

Sending a clear message

Alumna brings OT skills back to children of her native Ukraine

OT-3A volunteer assignment for a foundation called Mission to Ukraine set Olya Mangusheva ’11 on a course to a new career and a happy collision with the University of Indianapolis School of Occupational Therapy. Olya began volunteering with Mission to Ukraine in 2002, which is based in Carmel, Indiana. She worked as a translator for U.S. therapists who went on service trips to Ukraine. Originally educated in Ukraine as a secondary teacher of English, German, and World Literature, Olya began expanding her service to MTU and in 2005, started the first augmentative communication program in the country.

Augmentative and alternative communication  includes all forms of communication, not just speech. It includes gestures, writing, facial expressions, or symbols. For individuals with speech or language problems, using AAC helps to replace speech. Electronic devices or special symbol communication boards may be used to help people express themselves.Olya was able to start the augmentative communication program thanks to the guidance and help of visiting professionals from Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, many of whom are UIndy graduates. But it wasn’t until several years later when a group of visiting OTs from MTU observed Olya working with Ukrainian children and suggested to her that she would make a great occupational therapist.

“That was the first time I had heard about occupational therapy as a profession,” says Olya, who took the recommendation to heart. “I was already working on fine motor development with my patients because I realized that being able to physically use augmentative communication devices was difficult for most of my patients with cerebral palsy. I knew I needed more education and OT seemed to be the perfect fit,” Olya says. “It filled the gap in patient care here in Ukraine. Children with disabilities do not receive services they need in Ukraine. What OT has to offer, in my opinion, is of the utmost importance as we teach patients and their families simply how to live meaningful and joyful lives in their circumstances and how to make most of their opportunities.”

Long-distance learning

OT-2When it came to selecting an OT program in the United States, Olya said that choosing UIndy was natural considering many of her interactions at Mission to Ukraine were with UIndy-educated occupational therapists. Olya worked with the International Student Office to apply to UIndy from abroad and even conducted her application interview via Skype.

“Throughout the program Olya was extremely independent and self-motivated and took initiative to achieve the goals she set for herself,” says Dr. Kate DeCleene Huber, director of the School of Occupational Therapy. “She balanced an awareness of the big picture with her ability to analyze the elements affecting that picture. We knew Olya would be an amazing occupational therapist and do wonderful things in Ukraine.”

From the time she applied to the Master of Occupational Therapy program at UIndy, Olya knew that she would return to Ukraine after she received her degree.

“I love my country and I am very blessed with the opportunity to serve the neediest here,” Olya says. “There were many obstacles on my way through the years of graduate school but I am happy to be home and a pioneer the field of occupational therapy in Ukraine.”

Blazing a trail

OT-1After graduating from the UIndy School of Occupational Therapy in 2011, Olya became the lead occupational therapist at MTU in 2013. In her job, Olya provides or oversees care for 24 patients who range in age from 1 to 18 and who are living with diagnoses that include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and developmental delays. Her daily routines include developing oral motor interventions, splinting, teaching self-care, fitting and training patients to use adaptive equipment, and educating parents on how to best help their children. She also writes occupational therapy resources in Ukrainian and conducts training seminars for other rehabilitation staff. Not surprisingly, Olya has found that the experience of practicing OT in the Ukraine is different from practicing in the U.S.

“I don’t want my U.S. colleagues to be jealous, but imagine practicing in a world without reimbursement issues,” she says. “MTU is a charitable organization, and we do have limitations, but I always have the freedom to do what is best for the patient,” she explains. “I have no prior authorizations, no insurance problems, and no billing issues. I have the freedom to choose modalities, techniques, and strategies that are best for the patient. It is OT heaven, if you ask me.”

Yet choosing to practice in Ukraine does have its challenges, Olya acknowledged.

“I feel extremely isolated, as I don’t have any OT professionals who could advise me, share their expertise, guide, or teach me,” she says. “Continuing education is possible for me only online.”

Olya hopes that her experience piloting OT services in a country where they did not exist provides inspiration for other therapists in the United States to consider making service trips in countries where occupational therapy is a developing discipline. To those who want to share knowledge and resources with the emerging practice in Ukraine, Olya’s door is always open.

“While I don’t have the resources OTs have in the U.S.,” she says, “I think that pushes me to be a better OT. I have to be more creative with fabricating assistive devices, working with families to design adaptive equipment, making custom splints, and more. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me.”

—Amy Magan

the authorMarty