Healing The Whole Person
April is National Occupational Therapy Month. If you’re not sure what occupational therapy is, you’re not alone.
Steven Kline wants to change that.
This month, he travels to various schools across the island teaching keiki about a profession he’s been practicing for decades. Kline is regional director of occupational therapy for Kauai Veterans and Samuel Mahelona memorial hospitals, and he’s on a mission to educate as many people as possible about what he dedicates his life to.
“People think we’re physical therapists, but we’re not,” he says.
Occupational therapy encompasses much more than the physical body. It is a process of rehabilitation in people of all ages — not just physically, but mentally. Patients are prescribed everyday activities (occupations) that assist them in recovering from disabilities that prevent them from participating in everyday functions, like work or school.
“We rehabilitate patients so that they can become self-sufficient,” says Kline.
Games like Monopoly and checkers actually are part of this therapeutic approach. And while he admits his friends poke fun at the fact that he gets to play games all day, he explains that it’s part of a bigger restorative picture.
“If you look at it and analyze it, there’s so much going on with these games,” he says.
Monopoly, for example, gives Kline clues into a patient’s money-management skills, and checkers might help him discover someone’s coloror hand-eye coordination — the basic skills needed to live independently.
“It’s about the whole person. It’s so much more involved than just, ‘Can you walk?'” he explains.
Aside from mental therapy, he also specializes in sports medicine and can assist people with different physical ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. He gets to teach skills that allow patients to become more mobile. It’s a job he thoroughly enjoys and one that comes with many rewards.
“I get to heal people, get them better and help them live independently,” he says.
The California native discovered the profession in high school after taking an aptitude test, and he found it was a field that best suits his personality. After digging deeper into the line of work and learning as much as possible, he fell in love.
“It’s so diverse, so creative,” he says.
Few schools offer an advanced degree in occupational therapy, but he was able to graduate with the proper qualifications by attending Loma Linda and San Jose State universities. As a contract occupational therapist, he worked at several hospitals in California before branching out into a permanent position focusing on hand therapy.
Eventually, however, he desired more.
“I wanted to be a manager in the worst way, kind of run my own show, do my own thing,” he says.
That’s when he found his current position 15 years ago. Though he had visited Kauai, he wasn’t quite sure about living on the island.
“I never really pictured myself living on an island,” he admits.
The job was too enticing, however, and he actually had no trouble settling in. Since then, he has grown within the field and bonded with the Westside community.
“It’s not like that on the Mainland, where no one knows you or their neighbors,” says Kline, who enjoys performing arts in his
time off, including singing, directing, Filipino dancing and hula. “Here, everyone knows you.”
And now he wants everyone to know he’s there to help.
“The quality of care we’re able to provide is detailed,” he says of the entire staff at KVMH. “We can spend extra time with you. People like that quality time.”
He’s determined to spread the word about the services offered at KVMH — named in honor of Korean War veterans when it was founded in 1957 — including a 24-hour emergency room and long-term care.
Above all, Kline’s main goal is to educate people about what he does, and how he can get his patients back to successful living, mentally and physically.
For more information about occupational therapy, visit aota.org, or call 338-8311 to make an appointment at KVMH.