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Nov 24, 2020

Compassion and passion: Making a difference in West Des Moines

On the second floor — of a glass and brick palace on Des Moines’ West side —  goodness happens.

Skilled, care-filled goodness.

“It (the atmosphere) is the first thing you notice about Rock Valley Physical Therapy,’’ said Danna Herrick, a dedicated and caring PT, world-class distance runner and first-time mother-to-be (February, 2021).

 Herrick, an amazing sort, is in her second work tour with Rock Valley, having stepped away to run distance professionally for the Brooks group, arguably the top running shoe in all of road racing.

“Patient care, being surrounded by great people with tremendous passion is also paramount,’’ added Herrick, who on a sun-kissed and heaven-sent Monday in November, is singing the praises of longtime workmate and mentor, senior PT Beth Schweizer, West Des Moines clinic manager Dave Freesman, the rest of the West Des Moines staff and an incredible RVPT patient named Dean Furness.

Schweizer, a 13-year Rock Valley veteran, has spent two decades bettering the lives of others. A true difference-maker, Schweizer scoffs at personal recognition, waving off praise from those around her. Passionate about her role, Schweizer has gone above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of many. Freesman, is both passionate and big-hearted, forever dedicated to his craft. A gifted athlete himself, Freesman also understands the merits of a mighty nice farm pond.

“Let’s begin with Beth being the first person in my career to take time and mentor me,’’ Herrick said. “She did so on so many fronts, including women’s health. She is a fixture in women’s health, physical therapy or pelvic floor physical therapy. She invested a great deal of time in me not only as a therapist, but as a runner as well. Now that I have shifted to a speciality of women’s health, she continues to be an amazing mentor. Her passion never wanes.’’

In 2011, Furness, a father of three, husband and former football standout at Central College at Pella, Iowa, was paralyzed when a 1,000-pound hay bale crashed down on him after the tractor he was using gave way. The blow severed the analytic consultant with Wells Fargo’s spine, leaving him, even after surgery, unable to generate motor function in his lower half.

Furness, one of life’s true treasures, refused to slow, citing too much good around him to ever feel sorry for himself.

Since the accident, Furness has competed — at a near-elite level — in seven marathons and 10 half marathons as a wheelchair athlete. He continues to coach high school girls basketball and spent several years as a high school football coach. He also serves on the board of the Martensdale-St. Mary’s Community School District in Martensdale, Iowa.

“Let’s go all the way back to Dave (Freesman) putting me back together beginning in 2003,’’ said Furness, a laugh-a-minute type, who possesses a great memory and a keen sense of the world around him.  “We have been friends for that long. We skied together in Breckenridge (Colo.) and when I injured my leg (right) and tore up my knee (left), Dave put me back together after my surgeries. He’s tremendous and a friend who I have always enjoyed being around. We always used to kid him about when he would meet a girl, he would ask two questions and the third question would always be “do you have a farm pond.’’

Following his release from a Colorado-based rehabilitation facility in early 2012, Furness worried about a life free of pain medication and how he would develop and maintain strength in his abdominal area. He turned to Schewizer.

“I wanted to know what was pain and what wasn’t,’’ he said. “I didn’t want it (pain medication) masking what was pain and what wasn’t. That was a tough thing to come to grips with, but it had to be done. It could consume you, relying on it. And working on strengthening the abdominal region, just below the ribs. Two keys for me.’’

Herrick says patient and therapist — Schweizer and Furness — refused to back down from the challenges before them. Together they helped Furness reach heights — athletically — he knew were within reach, but had yet to find  since his accident.

“I knew  Beth and her great work with Dean when I was here in 2015 and in 2016,’’ Herrick said. “He was determined and she was going to help him get better and be whatever he wanted to be. Sure there were challenges, but that didn’t stop them.

“Fast  forward two years and I was about to run the Chicago Marathon in the professional women’s field,’’ added Herrick. “All of a sudden I see this face I recognize in a wheelchair. I had just left a meeting of the professional women’s group and the wheelders were set to meet next. And there was Dean. We had a great conversation in that hotel lobby. I had no idea he had come that far to be at the start line in the professional wheeler’s field in the marathon. I had learned from Beth that Dean, after all he had accomplished in the first stages of his racing career, he  was a bit nervous since it was his first (professional) time. That was something that touched me on a personal level knowing how hard he had worked and all the work Beth had done with him. It was a great experience.’’

Furness chuckles a good chuckle when he talks of Schweizer and their therapist-patient relationship.. He calls her the leader of his team and jokes about other names he has for her and Freesman, but that discussion is for another time and setting.

“You can learn a lot in this world by looking down at the floor,’’ Furness said. ‘“And by that I mean whenever I’m on the table and looking down and I see Beth in her running shoes — something that needs to grip the floor — I know I’m in for one of “those’’ days. If she just has her Chuck Taylor’s on she has a different plan, but nothing like a “running shoe’’ day.  Either way, I know I’m going to get worked, but I’m going to get better. Beth truly is the leader of my  team. She is there at every turn for me and knows what it takes to keep me going forward.’’

Schweizer, modest to a fault, says you know what you are getting with Furness.

“First, Dean is just a wonderful person,’’ she said.. “Amazing sense of humor, driven and a nice man. He is passionate with all he does and cares greatly about those around him. I watched Dean working with Dave (Freesman) and marveled at the give-n-take they had between them. The goal, though, was the same and is still the same. The mission is better things for Dean and to be there at every turn. It’s the same way with every patient we have.’’

Amazingly, this is not Schweizer’s first step into the non-traditional world of physical therapy.

For years, she has worked with patients who have suffered through amputations in addition to her regular workload..

“It  helps to be married to a prosthetist,’’ Schweizer said of her husband, Todd, who fits people with artificial limbs for OSSUR, the world’s top manufacturer of non-invasive orthopaedics equipment, including bracing and support products, compression therapy, and prosthetics.

“It was an area coming out of PT school where I clearly lacked,’’ Schweizer said. “I  was not prepared to deal with pregnant patients and amputees. I just felt I had not had enough training on either front.Thank goodness for the chance to better myself in those areas, especially with Rock Valley.’’

Herrick says Schweizer understands the increased need for someone to be able to work with those who struggle after amputation.

“It’s just the way she is,’’ Herrick said. “If  someone was active before and is motivated after going through something of that nature, Beth can really make a difference. She has had a number of opportunities to speak at conference events where she, as a PT, has been educating prosthetists on the importance of PT for amputees. I know she has traveled all over the world to speak and share. She has really built up this specialty.’’

For Furness, the final months of  2020 have been slow. The pandemic has stymied his racing schedule. He says he is turning to Schweizer to help ready him for his next challenge.

“Working on my elbows, doing what we can to get faster,’’ Furness said. “Whatever it takes, I know I have someone there in Beth to help get me over the hump. It’ always been that way.’’

It appears as though it will always be that way.

By Johnny Marx