Featured | Therapy & Rehabilitation

To be a health care provider is to answer a calling. For some, the journey to health care is a straight line; for others, the road is winding. This series features stories from ECU Health team members who took the winding road, but found the destination to be worth the effort.

Kasey Shue, a recreational therapist, had no idea that a fulfilling career in health care was awaiting her when she got sick nearly eight years ago.

“I had an undergraduate degree in public relations and communications from East Carolina University,” Shue said. “I worked for the American Red Cross educating people about and coordinating blood drives. Then I went to the hospital with Guillain-Barre syndrome.”

Guillain-Barre is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks the peripheral nerves, and it can result in near-total paralysis and breathing problems in the most severe cases. Shue’s case was, she said, pretty severe.

“I needed help with everything: I had to learn how to chew, swallow, sit, stand and walk again. It was like being a toddler.” Even more than the physical stress, Shue said that the emotional burden of being in the hospital was trying. “I had a husband and two small children at home,” Shue said. “We actually held my son’s second birthday party in rehab while I was there. It was difficult being away from my family and coming to grips with not being able to do the most simple of things.”

Shue spent two and a half months at ECU Health Medical Center, six weeks of those being on the rehabilitation unit. During her stay, Shue said all therapies were instrumental in her recovery, but recreational therapy (RT) made the biggest impact.

“I didn’t know what RT was before I was in the hospital,” Shue said. “RT affected me the most because it helps people keep being who they are despite their physical barriers. RT helped me schedule my son’s birthday party, and they took me on an outing to Target.” During her stay, Shue said she had a literal epiphany: “It hit me – I was going through this so I could go back to school to be an RT and give back. I wanted to pay it forward.”

After her recovery, Shue went back to school and graduated with her master’s degree in recreational therapy from East Carolina University. She also added an aquatic therapy certification to her degree because of her own personal experience in the therapy pool.

“Aquatic therapy was extremely beneficial to my recovery, so when I went back to ECU I was determined to get that certification,” Shue said.

Shue also knew she wanted to work in inpatient rehabilitation because, “you see people get better in a short time frame, and I like seeing that progress.” She didn’t know, however, that she’d end up working for ECU Health in the same rehabilitation unit where she recovered just a few years prior. “I had no idea I’d end up back here in the Medical Center, but in a lot of ways, it’s my perfect job to come back and help people in the same facility where I received help.”

Shue attributed her success both to the skills she learned in her previous career and the experiences she had as a patient.

“From my work with the Red Cross, I was already familiar with this hospital, as well as general health and wellness education. I also know how to work with people – not everyone does that well.” Shue said her time in the hospital gave her a unique perspective that allows her to be more empathetic with her patients. “I can relate to patients on a different level because I’ve been the one in the bed not wanting to get up or feeling like I couldn’t do the work. I have a rapport with patients and help them work through their pain. It’s made me successful in the patient care side of things.”

That professional perspective also bleeds into her personal life. “I tell people that now I’m Kasey version 2.0,” Shue laughed. “After being sick, I don’t take things for granted. I have more empathy for people, and the smaller things don’t stress me out like they used to.”

Shue said it’s an honor to work with the rehabilitation team, some of whom were there when she was a patient.

“A lot of my primary therapists when I was sick have moved on to other roles, but we still pass each other in the halls and have that relationship,” Shue said. “And some of my former therapists work with me every day. I have a professional respect for them, but we also have a deeper bond because they watched me and helped me get better.”

Kasey Shue, a recreational therapist at ECU Health Medical Center, sits with Clive, an Animal Assisted Therapy dog, on the rehab unit at the Medical Center. Shue is Clive's handler.

Working beside the people who helped her and providing services to people who are in the situation she was in eight years ago is gratifying.

“I really enjoy what I do, and it doesn’t feel like work. I tell people that I get paid to play.” Shue is also the handler for Clive, a dog who is a part of the Animal Assisted Therapy program and who helps patients in the rehabilitation unit a few days a week. “I’ve always been a dog lover, and as a patient I had several dogs that visited me. I knew pet therapy fell under the RT umbrella; the pieces came together so we could have Clive come in and work with our patients.”

Shue said these professional experiences fill her cup in a way her previous career did not, and her advice for anyone considering a career change to health care is to listen to their instincts.

“Life challenges, whether professional or personal, happen, and sometimes it requires you putting yourself out there and stretching your comfort zone,” Shue said. “If something draws you, listen to that pull. I’m a big believer that things work together for the good, even if you can’t see it initially. I didn’t ask to be sick, but it impacted my entire future in a positive way. Now I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do.”


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