Siskin Hospital’s First Physical Therapist Comes Full Circle

One of Chattanooga’s first PTs remembers early career at what has become a nationally-recognized rehabilitation hospital

Friday, June 12, 2015

When physical therapist Michael “Mickey” Myers treated “Operation Crossroads” therapy patients in the early 1960s, he wasn’t thinking of the day when he’d need physical therapy himself. But that day did arrive, and he’s now a therapy patient at the very place where he’d provided therapy so many years earlier.

“I was the first physical therapist for Siskin’s rehab center – before it was a hospital,” says Mickey. “The rehab center was on Oak Street, and we taught a class of handicapped children and I started PT with them.

Later, Mickey worked with adults and oversaw the entire physical therapy program at “Operation Crossroads,” the name given to the rehab center by founders Mose and Garrison Siskin.

Mickey became interested in physical therapy while attending the University of Chattanooga and working as assistant trainer for the athletic department.

“Actually, I started out as a football player, but didn’t make the team,” he laughs. “So eventually, they put me with the head trainer to help him. And since PT is a closely-related field, it was a natural progression into PT as a career.”

But in the early 1950s, there were no physical therapy programs at the University of Chattanooga, or in Tennessee, Georgia, or Alabama, for that matter. The two closest programs were in Richmond, Virginia and Durham, North Carolina.

“I was all set to go to Richmond, which was 550 miles away,” he says. “But then I looked on the map and saw Durham was closer at 450 miles. So I decided to apply to Duke University, and I got in.”

The energetic fresh graduate returned to Chattanooga in 1955 and landed a job with Easter Seals. He was one of only five physical therapists in town; two Erlanger therapists subsequently moved away, leaving Mickey and two colleagues as the sole practitioners of their craft. Three years into his first job, he began to divide his time between Easter Seals and the Siskins’ new rehab center on Oak Street. When a full-time opportunity came up at “Operation Crossroads,” Mickey was a shoe-in for the job.

“The field was much different in those days,” he says. “People didn’t realize the benefits of it, and doctors weren’t used to recommending it. So physical therapy wasn’t in big demand like it is now.”

Nevertheless, Mickey derived a lot of satisfaction in seeing his patients’ progress and continued to practice physical therapy for the next 44 years.

Today Mickey, dressed in a teal polo and olive khaki shorts, is taking both physical and occupational therapy at Siskin Hospital’s Outpatient Pavilion. Relaxing after his therapy session, he looks around the large, modern gym with its new equipment and latest technology and notes that physical rehabilitation programs have changed a good deal over the years.

“We had a smaller gym than this one, and the hot tub took up a good portion of that,” he says. “We had about three tables, parallel bars, a mat, things like that. For that day, the rehab center was well equipped. But here at Siskin Hospital, there is equipment that didn’t exist then. The laser treatment I had today, for instance. And some of the machines I’ve seen only on TV!”

His balance exercises with physical therapy and range of motion exercises with occupational therapy are examples of therapy specialization Mickey says has changed as well.

“PTs used to do both upper and lower body treatments, because there weren’t many OTs around,” he says. “Back at the rehab center, we treated all kinds of patients: strokes, arthritis, automobile accidents. Though I had two or three assistants to help me, I was the only therapist. There was no OT, so I did it all.”

Coincidentally, Mickey was also the first physical therapist for St. Barnabas Nursing Home, founded in 1965, and acquired in 2014 by Siskin Hospital.

Mose and Garrison Siskin started “Operation Crossroads” in 1957 to provide outpatient physical rehabilitation to the Chattanooga community. The early rehab program was the precursor to Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation and was housed in a building on Oak Street near the University campus. Later, it became part of the University’s nurse training program when Siskin Hospital was built in 1990 and currently houses the UTC Physical Therapy School.

Because “Operation Crossroads” was small and the Siskin brothers were so involved and visible in their business and philanthropic endeavors, Mickey had plenty of opportunity to observe them.

 “Let me tell you a funny story,” he says. “Garrison Siskin worked in the office part of the plant down there, and Mose worked outside in the plant. Mose’d always wear an old shirt and an old sweater and bogan shoes and an old hat.

“So this girl who was a volunteer at Siskin noticed that he was out there in the parking lot it seemed like every time she drove up. And he’d say, ‘Oh, you can park over here.’ She thought he was the parking attendant. Someone told her, ‘No, that’s Mose Siskin! He owns the place!’

“They were both real nice people, though they were different personalities,” Mickey remembers. “I knew them well. Garrison was more serious, Mose more easy-going. Garrison used to slip me some money as a bonus at Christmas time.”

The interview over, Mickey picks up the yellow resistance band and a list of homework exercises he’d gotten from his therapist. Someone commented on the number of people he’d been able to help over the years.

“I hope so!” he says in parting. “It’s been a rewarding career.”

Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation is dedicated exclusively to physical rehabilitation and is nationally known for providing exceptional rehabilitation care through a full continuum of patient care services. Siskin Hospital offers specialized treatment programs in brain injury, amputation, stroke, spinal cord injury, orthopedics, and major multiple trauma. The Hospital also provides treatment for neurological disorders and loss of muscle strength following illness or surgery. Siskin Hospital opened in 1990 and is the only freestanding, not-for-profit rehabilitation hospital in Tennessee. Siskin Hospital is accredited by both The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and Joint Commission. For more information, please call 423.634.1200 or visit www.SiskinRehab.org.




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