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WesternU CHS-Northwest PALs patient participates in Strawberry Festival mile walk 

by Emily Campbell

June 10, 2024

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Dr. McMullen, Bryan Stephens, Mackenzie Antila, and Nancy Minnick wearing "Strawberry Run" shirts at the Lebanon Strawberry Festival walk
WesternU CHS-Northwest Assistant Professor and PALS Program Director Erin McMullen, PT, DPT, NCS, Bryan Stephens, Mackenzie Antila, and CHS-Northwest Administrative Assistant Nancy Minnick

Each year, the Lebanon, Oregon community hosts the Strawberry Festival, a multi-day celebration that marks the start of the summer months. The festival includes concerts, parades, and a 5K or one mile walk/run. For Western University of Health Sciences Practical Application Lab (PALs) patient Mackenzie Antila, participating in the Lebanon Strawberry Festival’s mile walk was the culmination of months of physical therapy, doctor appointments, and hard work.  

Antila has been receiving physical therapy services weekly through the WesternU College of Health Sciences-Northwest (CHS-Northwest) PALs pro bono clinic since she abruptly lost the ability to walk in the spring of 2023. Her sudden immobility was caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder that causes numbness or weakness in the extremities. 

Initially, Antila planned to use PALs as supplemental care to the physical therapy she was already receiving. However, she quickly realized PALs was a perfect fit for her needs. Antila enjoys listening to students and faculty talk about her care, sharing that the discussions about her treatment have kept her informed and educated on her progress. Perhaps most impactful for Antila has been the thoughtful and talented health care professionals she has been able to work with at PALs. 

“A huge part of physical therapy, for most people but especially for me, is about who your physical therapist is. And with Erin, it was an instant click. She’s amazing,” Antila said. 

Antila’s physical therapist, CHS-Northwest Assistant Professor and PALs Program Director Erin McMullen, PT, DPT, NCS, oversees the PALs program and works with students as they provide patient care. It was Dr. McMullen’s idea to encourage Antila to participate in the walk. 

“I have always found external motivation to be a powerful tool. Kenzie has been working so hard and making so many gains lately and I felt it was the right timing for her. Her biggest walk up to that point had been a half mile, and it seemed like it was the appropriate next milestone for her to meet,” Dr. McMullen said. “I also knew that some students would be walking it, and it’s always fun to have cheerleaders along the way!”  

Antila was one of over 500 participants at the starting line on Saturday, June 1, 2024. She walked with her partner Bryan Stephens, Dr. McMullen and her family, PALs Administrative Assistant Nancy Minnick, and several DPT students. Additional DPT students, family members, and community supporters lined the streets and cheered as they watched Antila make her way across the finish line. Though she was tired after the walk, Antila feels proud of the progress she’s made over the last year with PALs. For Antila, participating in the walk helped her better understand the journey to recovery. 

Thinking back to where she was a year ago, Dr. McMullen and Antila are excited to see so much growth.  

“I’m glad I did it and that I know now I can do it. I feel encouraged. In PT we focus a lot on goals. Doing this has moved my goals forward,” Antila said. 

“Since the walk, she has been setting bigger goals like jumping and running, which is a testament to how the walk helped her open the door to the next level of accomplishment,” added Dr. McMullen.

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