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Jul 22, 2021

Sean Lyons and RVPT: Hand in hand to a Hall of Fame career

 Few — if any — are in Sean Lyons’ league when it comes to matters of the hand.

Humble and gracious to a fault, Lyons is a Hall-of-Fame caliber Occupational Therapist, specializing in the hand. His abilities — passion, compassion and a desire to better the lives of those around him — should be applauded.

“Sean is the epitome of all of our values rolled up into one of the nicest humans on the planet,’’ Rock Valley CEO Mike Horsfield said of Lyons, who has served the Rock Valley family for nearly three decades. “His quiet commitment to his patients, co-workers and Rock Valley are inspiring to everyone who has had the pleasure to work alongside him.”

True to all that is wonderful with our world, Lyons says one therapist — a legend herself — towers over him and others alike. If he is Hall-of-Fame worthy, something he would never boast, she — in his eyes — should be placed atop Mount Rushmore.

“Wanda Robb took me under her wings,’’ Lyons said when asked about learning from one of Rock Valley’s tri-cornerstones, a longtime owner, who — in her lengthy and celebrated career — was regarded as one of the top hand specialists in the country.

“But remember, I started with (founder) Steve (Layer), (owner) Mark Levsen, (PT) Kevin Farrell and (owner) Wanda, so I was surrounded by the best and learned something every day. I have great respect for all of them, but it was Wanda who had an amazing impact on all I have done.’’

After a three-month clinical rotation at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based hand surgery unit 30 years ago, Lyons interviewed with Rock Valley Physical Therapy. There were, it should be noted, other interviews with a variety of entities in need of what Lyons brought to the table.

Truth-be-told, others seeking Lyons’ services, were playing for second place.

Rock Valley provided then — as it does today — the perfect setting for all its therapists to hone their respective crafts, all done in a positive and productive environment, with a tremendous emphasis on establishing relationships with those served.

“There was a demand for OTs,’’ Lyons said of his field 30 years ago. “I was in school and there were companies out there that would give you help with school and have a job waiting for you if you signed with them. The demand was pretty great. But it my eyes, Rock Valley was different.’’

Fascinated with anatomy and how the body functions, Lyons said he came across the hand discipline during his days as a student at SAU.

“I didn’t know a discipline of that nature existed and one of the faculty members was a hand specialist,’’ Lyons said of his introduction to the world of the hand. “And I just kind of dove in  —  feet first. She (the faculty member) took me under her wings as well. That was the beginning.’’

With Rock Valley, Lyons would soon be the benefactor of Robb’s wealth of knowledge, her patience and her compassion. Despite the many hats she wore on the Rock Valley administrative side,  Robb never wavered from her dedication to her patients and helping Lyons establish a presence in the field. They worked countless days together at the “hands’’ tables.’’

“Thing is, in this particular profession and area of specialization, you needed to find someone who would take you under their collective wings for a rather lengthy period of time,’’ Lyons said.

 “That’s what was/is fascinating about Rock Valley. A big part of that for me was Wanda. I am incredibly indebted to her. She is amazing. But the company, too. We are here to provide care to people and through that educate our therapists. That has — and will — never change. It’s what separates Rock Valley from the rest. I have seen it for nearly 30 years. It’s special.’’

Robb, forever kind and caring, says Lyons, in addition to being a tremendous hand therapist, is an amazing individual.

“I met Sean almost 30 years ago when he accepted his first job out of school with Rock Valley Physical Therapy,’’ said Robb. “We worked side-by-side at the hand tables for many years. I’ve known Sean from many perspectives, being a new grad eager to learn, to being a highly-skilled and competent Certified Hand Therapist, to being his patient myself. He is kind and thoughtful.  While I was the first hand therapist in the QCA, Sean is now the longest-practicing hand therapist in the QCA and has mentored many other OTs who have also become skilled and competent Certified Hand Therapists under his tutelage.’’

Robb continues to marvel at Lyons’ thirst for knowledge, his ability to soothe patient fears, his endless energy and his ability to mentor.

“Sean, from day one, has always wanted to learn more,’’ Robb said. “He reads and researches constantly, always striving to be better at what he already does well. In addition, he and fellow hand therapist, Michelle McMurray, strive to maintain and bolster Rock Valley’s long legacy of being the best you can be by collaborating and challenging fellow therapists, organizing journal clubs, and continuous mentoring of our newer OTs as well as the experienced ones.’’

Lyons, it must be noted, stands grateful for mentors like Robb and the many who have and still make Rock Valley Physical Therapy the amazing place it is. He also wants the world to know one local — and gifted surgeon — has had an incredible impact on his career.

Dr. (Thomas) VonGillern,’’ Lyons said of the longtime surgeon and arguably the best locally when it comes to surgical matters of the hand. “I would put him right next to Wanda. Wanda and  “V’’ are huge components of my career. I continue to see beautiful surgeries from him. He is absolutely the best.’’

As someone who experienced Rock Valley through its formative years to what it is today, Lyons wants all to know that while change has occurred, not much has changed.

“Those (early) years were busy, we were seeing lots of patients, doing what I believed was great work and we were establishing some long-standing relationships,’’ Lyons noted.  “And it was fun, man was it fun. You got poked in some way everyday as far as all of us having fun.

“It was very much an environment where there were many opportunities to learn and get better. Growth is good, because it has been done the right way and I cannot say enough about those who led us when I began and those who lead us today. There is at least one moment everyday for all those I work with and myself, that we are brought to laughter. Some days it’s much more. There is an atmosphere of jocularity.’’

And the future?

“There is still so much to learn and do,’’ Lyons   said. “And I very much want to do it here. I still vividly remember my first day. I had four patients and Wanda was patient and amazing with her guidance. If I could run it back to that day and do it all over, I would.’’

It’s that mindset that makes Sean Lyons and Rock Valley Physical Therapy a Hall of Fame combination.

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller