Off the Clock: On Her Own Road to Recovery, Nurse Helps Others Gain Strength

Posted: November 4, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Michelle Nery

A severe running injury, later diagnosed as spondyloarthropathy, an autoimmune arthritis that affects the spine, stunted the active lifestyle of Diane Skwisz, nurse practitioner in Student Health Services. But it also helped her discover a rewarding hobby. In her spare time, she teaches swimming to handicapped adults and children at the Ida Lee Recreation Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Photo of Diane Skwisz
Diane Skwisz

An outdoor enthusiast, Skwisz loved hiking, biking, horseback riding, playing tennis, and swimming, but everything changed about six years ago when she injured herself running. “One of the things I found helpful was going to our community pool,” says Skwisz. “It gave me an opportunity to exercise, and it helped relieve the pain. The pool also gave me an opportunity to get out and talk with people, and I learned that there were a lot of people trying to recover from an illness or injury like myself.”

After watching the children enjoying their swimming lessons during her many hours at the pool, Skwisz enrolled in an American Red Cross swimming instructor class. She now gives individual and group swimming lessons to people with a variety of disabilities–from autistic children to adults who have suffered strokes. “I like to teach swimming because I love to use the water’s healing and restorative properties. I’ve seen people make great strides as a result of working in the water.”

Skwisz creates lesson plans based on a student’s goals and his or her particular challenges, whether they are balancing problems or sensory processing difficulties. “As a nurse practitioner, I’m pretty familiar with physical and mental disabilities, but as an aquatics instructor, I have to think of things a little differently and it’s very refreshing.”

Photo of Diane Skwisz working with one of her students

Diane Skwisz Working With One of Her Students

One of the students Skwisz is most proud of is Katherine Sokol, a seven-year-old girl with whom she has been working for four years. “Katherine is a dwarf and severely limited physically. When she first enrolled in our program, she was in a wheelchair and not walking, and her parents would get in the pool with us.” Skwisz worked with her every week for one year and helped her reach several goals including going under water, walking independently in chest-deep water, and getting in the water without her parents. “Working with the kids and families over time, you become very close to them, and you see the good times as well as the difficult times. I usually just try to listen, and not play the role of nurse practitioner.”

Skwisz also worked with Sokol through two major surgeries to correct spinal deformities, one of which left her in a body cast for one year. “At first we could only work with her in a horizontal or floating position per the surgeon, so we had to think of things we could do with her in that position. Finally, when we could position her vertically, she had to relearn how to walk,” says Skwisz.

“For me, the greatest reward and pleasure comes after all of our hard work when someone tells me about how they or their child were able to go into the pool for fun and enjoy it or how they had more confidence to try something they had not done before,” says Skwisz.

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