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WesternU provides care to Special Olympics athletes at Southern California Fall Games

by Rodney Tanaka

December 10, 2023

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Western University of Health Sciences interprofessional collaboration in action (left to right): Dr. Mary Schuh-Clark (College of Podiatric Medicine), Dr. John Tassinari (College of Optometry) and Drs. Jamie Parado, Krystle Rapisura and Monette Solomon (College of Dental Medicine).

Faculty and students from Western University of Health Sciences’ colleges of Dental Medicine, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine provided care and support at the Special Olympics Southern California Fall Games Nov. 11-12, 2023, in Fountain Valley, California. Volunteering at the event provided students with valuable experience in clinical skills and humanism.

The College of Optometry team included 16 students, two optometrists, two clinicians and one member of the administration crew. They examined about 200 athletes in the “Opening Eyes” optometry division.

Every athlete who needs vision correction is provided with a free pair of glasses and/or sports goggles at the Opening Eyes discipline. Sometimes the athletes will receive their new glasses that day. For athletes who do not need prescription glasses, they may receive free sunglasses and swim goggles, according to Special Olympics.

“Special Olympics is very well organized. When you show up, there’s a system ready to go, and they just need you to plug into it,” said College of Optometry Chief of Pediatric Optometric Service John Tassinari, OD, BS, FAAO, FCOVD. “The students get hands-on experience in optometric testing, including some difficult to test patients and patients who also have complicated eye and vision problems. They get the chance to encounter things we don’t see all the time. Lastly, at the heart of what Special Olympics does is diversity and inclusion. Maybe in your life circle you don’t interact with someone with special needs and now you are.”

College of Podiatric Medicine Assistant Dean of Clinical Education and Faculty Affairs Rebecca Moellmer, DPM, FACFAS, and CPM Assistant Professor Mary Schuh-Clark, DPM, DABPM, DPM Residents Faiza Zahid, DPM, and Tracie Shaw, DPM, Southern California community volunteer podiatrist Jennifer Chen, DPM, and 24 CPM students provided biomechanical exams to more than 100 athletes and their families each day at Fit Feet, the podiatric division of Special Olympics. Drs. Moellmer and Chen are both Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Fit Feet Clinical Directors.

“We had many students, including first-years who had just learned about gait analysis and biomechanical exams and this event allowed them to practice their skills as part of the foot screenings we provided for Special Olympics athletes,” Dr. Schuh-Clark said. “We provide the athletes and their family/caregivers with shoe size measurement, advice on footwear and socks, and perform an exam, following the Fit Feet protocol for Special Olympians. It is an upbeat, happy and fun event and the students said they enjoyed themselves and got to improve their skills and knowledge in a positive, humanistic environment.”

College of Podiatric Medicine volunteers at the Fit Feet station at the Special Olympics Southern California Fall Games.

Athletes and their families receive a one-page sheet of findings and if they had something that needed attention, the Fit Feet team advised them, from how to stretch tight muscles to referrals, such as seeing a physical therapist or a podiatrist professionally, or a need for alternate footwear.

The Fall Games featured athletes competing in a wide variety of sports, including softball, tennis, soccer, golf, volleyball and basketball.

“I wanted to volunteer for Special Olympics and Fit Feet again because it is a great program and helps the athletes and their care providers stay healthy. I participated years ago, before I moved to Vermont, and it is a fun day of service,” Dr. Schuh-Clark said. “I enjoy podiatric biomechanics and podiatric sports medicine and the gait exams we do are focused on those aspects of podiatry. Also, I had a family member who was a Special Olympian for many years and so I have been on the receiving end of the benefits of Special Olympics for the athletes and their families, so it is also my way of giving back to a valuable organization that brings out the best in people. I feel lucky to be able to encourage and guide our WesternU student DPMs to expand their horizons of what they can do as podiatrists and who is an athlete.”

College of Dental Medicine faculty and students have been volunteering at Special Olympics for more than a decade. CDM sent five faculty members and 24 students to the event. The volunteers provided dental screenings and oral cancer screenings, oral hygiene instructions, boil-and-bite mouthguards, and fluoride varnish.

“Special Olympics was a big inspiration for me when I was a student and now as a Clinical Director, I am always excited to share this experience with the students,” said CDM Assistant Dean for Community Patient Care Krystle Rapisura, DMD ’13, MS, FAAPD. “Meeting and laughing with and educating athletes, parents, and coaches provides a setting outside of the classroom or dental clinic that I think everyone involved appreciates. I also love seeing fellow colleagues serving in their expertise in the other areas of Healthy Athletes; it’s real-life application of interprofessional education.”

College of Dental Medicine volunteers at the Special Olympics Southern California Fall Games.

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