USciences Alumnus Leads PT Team for U.S. Navy’s Humanitarian Mission in Puerto Rico

Written by Jenna Pizzi
Published on November 3, 2017

Joseph KennyAs FEMA and other aid organizations descended on Puerto Rico in the days after Hurricane Maria made direct landfall on the island, Lieutenant Joseph Kenny DPT’15 made his way to the devastated U.S. territory aboard the USNS Comfort, a floating hospital ship. Dr. Kenny would be charged with leading his physical therapy team on the humanitarian mission.

Dr. Kenny and the Comfort initially deployed to San Juan, the commonwealth’s capital and most populous city; however, in order to better access patients in need, the mission was re-routed to the western and southern areas the island, where the devastation was more widespread, access was more difficult, and there was no power.

“We've been picking up and dropping off patients and supplies via helicopter as it is hard to transport them otherwise. And due to the destruction of the island, we have to stay on the ship,” said Dr. Kenny, who joined the Navy in April to give back to his country and those who so bravely put themselves in harm’s way.

Lt. Kenny with his physical therapy techs.“The biggest challenge here from a physical therapy standpoint is standing and ambulating critically ill patients on a rocking ship,” Dr. Kenny said. “Normally, you have a level surface which provides stability. Here, whenever there is a storm or big waves, the rocking of the ship definitely challenges the patient's balance. 

He and his team have seen a variety of patients, but Dr. Kenny said his most memorable experience was a 21-year-old woman who had given birth a few months before. During the storm, she had had been hospitalized with pancreatitis and debility.

“She became bed bound with multiple lines. After the power at her hospital went out, she was transported here on the USNS Comfort,” he said. “The first day I saw her she was in the ICU, could not move, and had a lot of difficulty opening her eyes. She was malnourished, dehydrated, and very ill.”

After she stabilized, Dr. Kenny and his team began trying to get her up and walking. A few days later she took her first steps with a walker, and then the next day, she was able to walk with only hand-held assist.

Lt. Kenny and his family“A few days after that, she was ready to be discharged and was taken back to her family, child, and husband via helicopter,” he said.

Dr. Kenny calls his USciences degree “the master key” that made it possible for him to pursue many facets of physical therapy so early in his career.

“It helped give me knowledge that I can refer back to and use when faced with any situation,” he said. “Looking back at my time at USciences, the professors and experiences were tough, but that's what prepares you for situations like this. All of the professors were very knowledgeable and did a great job preparing me for my career.”

Dr. Kenny, who worked for two years in New York as a physical therapist in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings, said although he has only been with the Navy for a few months, it is a rewarding career move.

“The Navy has been the best opportunity to continue learning, travel, expand my scope of practice and privileges, and collaborate with an elite group of health professionals and service members who are the best of the best,” Dr. Kenny said.   

Categories: News, Alumni, Proven Everywhere, Profiles, Physical Therapy, Samson College of Health Sciences, Department of Physical Therapy

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