NORMAN — The J. D. McCarty Center staff described T.J. Turner as determined, driven and motivated.
In three short weeks, staff helped Turner, 18, transition from high school graduate to university freshman.
Turner has been a patient of the McCarty Center since he was 7, but he was admitted to the McCarty Center on July 24 for a period of intensive therapy and independent living skills training. He told the staff he wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma and major in broadcast journalism.
“T. J. has always worked on independent living skills when he’s here,” said Maria Greenfield, director of occupational therapy. “He’s always wanted to be as independent as possible.”
Turner, whose hometown is Chickasha, has wanted to go to OU since he was a freshman in high school. His interest in journalism was stoked when he did general assignment and sports reporting for The Chickasha Leader weekly newspaper during an internship.
“As soon as we knew what T. J.’s goal was, we organized to see what we needed to do to make it happen,” Greenfield said. “The team consisted of therapists from speech-language, occupational and physical therapy, social work, psych, nursing and direct care. Our biggest challenge was going to be coordinating all of the groups and agencies involved in getting T. J. in school and supporting him.”
Dr. Chelle’ Lodge-Guttery, director of OU Disability Resource Center, was T. J.’s champion and helped remove all the barriers that T. J. faced getting into school. Another helpful resource in getting Turner set up in OU’s Couch Center dorm was Jenn Doughty, director of operations, OU housing and food.
“You couldn’t have asked for a more helpful person in getting T. J. set up in a proper dorm room in such a short time frame,” said Aaron Collidge, an occupational therapy student from Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas. Coolidge was working with Turner while doing a clinical rotation at the McCarty Center.
To get Turner ready for college, the team evaluated each element of his life and how he’d be independent.
Some of the questions they asked and answered were how would he feed himself; how would he get to class; how would he dress himself. For most college freshmen these questions have simple answers, but for a college freshman with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and has very limited use of his limbs, the answers were a bit more complicated.
Planning for Turner began with several trips to the OU campus as therapy team members visited Turner’s dorm room to look for potential safety issues and to determine what adaptations might need to be made. Obstacles were noted and reported to Dr. Guttery, who got things resolved.
Additionally, Maria Bratton, a speech-language pathologist, worked with Turner on executive functioning skills.
“T. J. has a lot of drive and desire that will help him overcome his limitations and succeed,” Bratton said. “His biggest challenge will be learning to navigate through the executive functions we’ve been working on and dealing with being a college freshman.”
Marci Koetter-Manson, Turner’s transition team social worker, was involved in helping Turner coordinate his personal care staff through Health Care Innovations, a home health agency, fill out financial aid forms and coordinate Turner’s support from Department of Rehab Services, the DHS Independent Living Program and Selynda Bass, an education coordinator for DHS at OU.
“It’s magnificent how hard people at the McCarty Center and OU were working to help me get into school,” Turner said. “The McCarty Center has helped me develop my independence. It’s comforting to know the staff here is ready to help. It gives you confidence. The preparation here has been amazing.”
Turner has a personal care staff of seven who works with him in two-to-four hour shifts during the day. Two of these people alternate being his suite mate at night. Turner also has a scribe who attends classes with him and takes notes.
Turner doesn’t let his cerebral palsy get in his way. He has a strong desire to be successful. Turner said he believes he will complete college with a high GPA and launch a career in sports broadcasting.
“It’s all about attitude for me, and I choose to be positive,” he said. “I have a disability. God has a plan for me, and my job is to discover what it is.”
The J. D. McCarty Center is Oklahoma’s center of excellence in the care and treatment of children with developmental disabilities from birth to age 21. This hospital provides the physical, occupational, speech and language therapy that children, like T. J. Turner, need to reach their highest level of functionality and independence.
For more information visit jdmc.org.