Todd Lyonnais found his place helping Windemere patients
"I have more grandmothers than anyone on this planet," says Todd Lyonnais, a physical therapist at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "Whenever I am not in, my patients always notice and express concern, hoping everything is okay. I'm very lucky."
For the past five years, Mr. Lyonnais has been a part of the professional team at the Windemere. Located in the Martha Vineyard's Hospital, the center offers short-term rehabilitation, long-term care, and a special needs wing for more than 70 residents.
"Working at the Windemere has been especially rewarding, because the experience requires the staff to really work together as a team," Mr. Lyonnais explains. "The Island's isolation and insulation helps to create a very special setting. The patients become, and are, like family. We treat them as people and genuinely care."
As a child, Mr. Lyonnais was fascinated by the human body. He recalls long hours spent as a young person at the library studying anatomy books and researching the way the body works. His brother's congenital heart defect was a motivating factor in his career pursuits. "By college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life," he said, in a recent conversation.
The summer after his first year of school at University of Southern California presented two life-changing experiences for the New Bedford native. Following the woman who would later become his wife, Mr. Lyonnais ventured out to the Vineyard. "I was looking for a job and sprained my ankle crossing the street. A taxi driver picked me up and ended up offering me a job driving taxis for the summer," he explains.
Mr. Lyonnais transferred to Northeastern University to complete his degree, returning to Martha's Vineyard to drive taxis for the next three summers. "For two years after graduation, I took six- to twelve-week assignments all over the country with the goal of getting as much experience as possible in the shortest amount of time, so that eventually I could settle down in a rural area."
The short-term assignments, everywhere from Utah to Florida, provided experience in one specific area per job. "Nursing homes, maternity coverage, home health, I saw everything but a burn unit," Mr. Lyonnais says.
After September 11, 2001, Mr. Lyonnais and his wife, who were living on Long Island at the time, decided they wanted a safer environment and a different way of life and moved back to the Vineyard. "When I was younger, I thought no way would I stay here longer than what was necessary," he recalls. "But I just keep getting called back to this place."
Moving back without a job, a tip from an insurance man led Mr. Lyonnais to Windemere, where his responsibilities continue to challenge and motivate him. "It takes more creativity here," he says. "Of course, we try to do things by the book, but other days force you to be creative."
One of Mr. Lyonnais's current challenges is adjusting to the growing population of patients to see and the lack of adequate space. "One of my suggestions was to put together a cart of physical therapy equipment and move beds out into the hallway," he says. "At other hospitals, this type of idea would never be considered, but we're currently working on investigating the idea."
Another outside-the-box approach that has proven successful is the addition of volunteers to provide companionship. "Many patients, especially those refusing to eat, need to feel a restored sense of security," Mr. Lyonnais says. "Someone to provide companionship with a warm hand to hold or a familiar voice can make a large difference. We really spend the time here to ask why; you wouldn't notice that off-Island."
Getting people home and back on their feet is the most rewarding aspect of the job for Mr. Lyonnais. Whether humming a few bars of a patient's favorite song or playing Wii Fitness, Mr. Lyonnais and the Windemere team are always looking for effective and creative treatment methods. "One of my patients who has not even walked in two years, will stand for ten minutes to play Wii bowling with me," he says.
But Mr. Lyonnais doesn't claim sole responsibility. He credits the center's team and positive teamwork for any success. "Every day, we have lunch together and discuss growth," he says. "It's so great to be part of a team where every member is completely entrenched in their job. Every member is approachable and really takes the time to help and make a positive change."
Mr. Lyonnais has always been a team player. A former high school and recreational hockey player, he translates teamwork into all aspects of his life - professionally and personally. "When I'm not at work, my time goes to my family," he says. He lives in Vineyard Haven with his wife, a former yoga instructor on Martha's Vineyard and recent speech pathology graduate, and two sons, Dylan and Caleb.