The West Coast Wire
Physiotherapist doesn’t let cerebral palsy define him
Former patient uses clinical placement at Janeway to advocate for inclusivity
Strolling through the halls of the Janeway Children’s Hospital brought back a lot of memories for Gavin Noble.
But the reason for his most recent time spent at the St. John’s facility was as a health-care professional, the exact opposite from his first visits.
When he was eight years old and living in Middle Arm on the Baie
Verte Peninsula, Noble was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The first sign something wasn’t quite right was the oversupination of his right arm that essentially left his hand turned in and his palm facing upward as its resting position. A year later, his right leg began outturning.
When he was 13, Noble developed another condition, cervical dystopia, which caused a lot of musical spasticity throughout his neck and upper back muscles.
Still, he was determined to be just like any other kid. He played every sport that was offered at school, including volleyball, ball hockey, basketball, table tennis and badminton.
“Obviously, it had a physical impact on me, just knowing I was having to do things a bit differently than everyone else and having to think of how I can achieve the same goal as everybody else, but do it my way,” said Noble. “I did a lot of thinking on the fly and trying to improvise and I ended up doing pretty well, I think.”
The adaptations, whether it was an athletic skill or a fine motor task, weren’t always easy or as smoothly executed as Noble had hoped, but that never held him back.
“When it came to finer things like writing and everyday tasks, I had to find ways to improvise because my fine motor skills were a little bit delayed and I had to find ways to compensate for that,” he said.
After high school, Noble initially planned to study music, but ended up changing his major four times before finally deciding to pursue a degree in kinesiology at Memorial University in St. John’s. After that, he did a master’s degree in physiotherapy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“I saw the effect sport and physical activity had on my body, how it made me feel better and made the muscles feel less tight and felt stronger in certain aspects and I got more interested in that,” he said of why he decided to study kinesiology and physiotherapy.
BACK TO THE JANEWAY
The switch to health care ultimately led him to a clinical placement at the Janeway.
“It was both surreal and almost felt like I had imposter syndrome at the same time,” said Noble, who is 24. “I would walk down the same hallways that I did when I was a kid going to the Janeway and I remember just thinking, ‘OK, I’m not a patient this time. I’m helping the patients.’”
Noble has never been hospitalized. His experience with the Janeway as a child involved quarterly checkups each year. That patient’s perspective is invaluable now.
“Having that point of view and knowledge feels like it gives me an even better edge in understanding what’s happening with a patient,” said Noble.
Now that he has an in-depth knowledge of how the body works, he feels he can be an important resource, even when dealing with his own condition.
“If something happens — a muscle spasm here or I find this deviation happening in this muscle in the right side of my body, I can come up with a way that I know how to correct it myself,” he said. “Or I know I can go seek out professional help, in the form of another physiotherapist and potentially talk about what’s happening and how best to treat that the best I can.”
Noble considers himself an advocate for inclusivity for those living with disabilities.
“I was hoping during my time at the Janeway that kids would see me and see people like themselves actually working at a profession,” he said. “When I was a kid, you never really heard of someone with a disability having a job, whereas now people with disabilities are pretty much in every workforce and they are role models for children like myself growing up.”
Noble is currently completing a mentorship at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook. When that is done, he has accepted a position at the Bonne Bay Health Centre in Norris Point and expects to be set up there by early November.
His true passion is pediatric rehabilitation and has his sights on other goals.
“One of the reasons why I am trying to be more of an advocate for disability and inclusivity is so I could eventually start a rehab clinic on the west coast for both pediatric and adult rehab, simply because there is such a need for it right now,” he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published in The Telegram.