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Speech therapist on board full time at Eagle Rehabilitation at Sunnyside

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Steven Saunders

Coming to work in Sunnyside is the culmination of all the aspects of life that Steven Saunders loves.

Growing up on a dairy farm in northern Idaho was just part of his childhood. So, naturally, working in Sunnyside brings back the fond memories of the 'old days.

Saunders' first encounter with an individual who had suffered a stroke was on the family farm. He says the farm employee was much like family, and Saunders learned how to understand what he was going through.

That was the beginning of the sparked interest in speech pathology. The newly-hired speech pathologist for Eagle Rehabilitation at Sunnyside feels right at home.

This 30-year experienced speech pathologist is one-of-a-kind to the local community, according to Eagle Rehabilitation Director Mary Arthur.

"To my knowledge therapy centers don't have the privilege of employing a full-time speech therapist," she said.

"For patients that do have a stroke, the first days are critical," Arthur added. "That's why (local patients) are fortunate to have Steven."

Saunders spends much of his days at Eagle Rehabilitation helping patients cope with symptoms that stem from having a stroke.

He helps some patients with swallowing issues. Dysphagia, as it's professionally named, is best approached by the rate of feeding and the texture of the food the patient is eating, according to Saunders.

Saunders says the therapy given to patients with dysphagia makes it safer for the patient while eating.

Another symptom of a stroke patient is aphasia, which is an impairment of the language ability.

Patients who are treated for this condition by Saunders work on improving their communication skills.

Saunders says Eagle Rehabilitation also offers outpatient services, in addition to taking care of inpatient individuals.

Another technique Saunders does with local patients is treating the trauma the brain endures due to injuries or strokes.

He says a paralinguistic patient sometimes lacks certain social skills, such as the timing of words, or when to nod in agreement and the like.

He says the first step is to gain the trust of the patient and begin to be honest with them, and a constant reminder of those social skills is also a must.

"It's important to address these skills can be re-learned, and having family understand why (the patient) communicates the way they do is also important," he said.

He says patients, no matter how severe a stroke they suffered, can always improve.

"I'm always optimistic, but the key is supportive families," Saunders added.

Saunders says geriatrics, or aging population, is where he's most at home; it's his passion.

So coming to Sunnyside, with the familiarity of his childhood days, and the bonus of working primarily with Sunnyside area senior citizens has brought his career and love for life full circle.

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