There are numerous medical staff and professionals that play an important role in the life of a premature infant during their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay and beyond. One of those medical staff, includes a Physical Therapist (PT). Physical therapists help a fragile, premature infant thrive physically and developmentally during the long, arduous NICU stay, even after discharge. They are trained and licensed medical professionals with experience in diagnosing, treating and managing physical conditions, restoring or maintaining function, improving mobility and promoting physical activity.
They can teach patients and caregivers how to manage their condition so they can achieve long-term health benefits. PT’s examine each patient and develop an individualized plan of care using treatment techniques to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability. Licensed PT’s can be found in a range of healthcare settings including outpatient clinics, private practices, hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, sports medicine, schools, fitness settings and research centers. Pediatric physical therapists treat and manage conditions that specifically affect infants, children and adolescents from birth to 18 years of age. Conditions can include: prematurity, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, torticollis and many other conditions that impact the musculoskeletal system.
Physical Therapists in the NICU are a part of the neonatal therapy team. They work in conjunction with other disciplines including occupational therapists (OT’s) and speech language pathologists (SLP’s). They provide direct patient care and consult services for premature and medically complex infants. They identify and treat developmental problems as well as try to prevent them. The main goals during an infant’s stay are: maximize developmental outcomes, improve motor skills, movement patterns and sensory responses, provide positioning to support alignment, perform range of motion exercises, splinting, support positive infant-parent relationships and contribute to the infant’s overall success. Everything we do as a neonatal therapist in the NICU helps to lay the groundwork for the infant’s next phase of development after discharge.
Finally, there are three ways a Physical Therapist can help a NICU infant and NICU graduate thrive:
1. Helping parents understand the importance of safe sleep practices and guidelines that will help reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
2. Providing information and referrals for therapy resources out in the community in preparation for discharge.
3. Showing parents the best way to position their baby to promote healthy development and progress toward motor milestones.
Wendy Williams, PT
Wendy Williams received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Texas Tech University in 1995. She received her Bachelor Degree in Physical Therapy from UT Southwestern Medical Center in 1998. Following graduation, she worked in an outpatient orthopedic clinic for a couple of years. She then took a job with a pediatric home health company. Wendy owned a company named Play Options, Inc. that provided recreational gymnastics for special needs children. She taught adaptive gymnastics for 10 years and coordinated Special Olympics gymnastics meets. In 2004, she joined the Texas Health Presbyterian Plano rehab team where she has spent most of her career. Wendy has 19 years of experience in working with children of all ages including birth to 18 years old. She has extensive experience in working with Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders. She is trained in the use of functional electrical stimulation (FES) in the pediatric neurological population to improve walking pattern and independence. She works with all pediatric diagnoses and disabilities. She also specializes in pediatric aquatic therapy. Wendy shares her time between outpatient rehab and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Texas Health.
Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2014. This experience led her to seek advanced training in Oncology rehab. She works with all types of oncological impairments in adult and pediatric population.
Wendy was born in Garland, Texas and has lived in the Dallas area her whole life. She currently resides in Sachse, Texas. She has two daughters ages 13 and 17. Wendy enjoys traveling, spending time with her friends and family, snow skiing and outdoor activities.