Donna Hannah: Finding a need, making a difference

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Donna Hannah is retiring from her full-time work as an occupational therapist at Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center. But she has left a lasting legacy, both at Yavapai Regional and in our community. Fulfilling a lifelong drive, she found a need and made a difference.

Donna grew up in a small town in Colorado, at age 12 decided she wanted to be a veterinarian. She worked at a nearby vet’s office, grooming animals and assisting with surgeries. When the vet was on field calls, she would pore over the medical textbooks in the office.

Years later, Donna set off to Gunnison, Colorado, to study zoology, but found that chemistry and math were not her strengths, and that veterinary science was not for her. At about the same time, she met a fellow student from Colorado State University, who was studying occupational therapy. This chance meeting brought back childhood memories of helping to care for her aunt who suffered from multiple sclerosis, as well as accompanying her mother when she volunteered with Easter Seals, providing home therapy to young children in her hometown.

The focus of occupational therapy is on “occupation,” which is defined as daily activities needed for independence, such as self-care, dressing, cooking, hair care, etc. The goal is to help the patient live as independently as possible. An occupational therapist may have to work with a patient to improve upper body strength, hand coordination, and balance.

Donna had found her calling.

“Before I committed to my new major, I did community service, volunteered for Special Olympics, and was a Big Sister to a Down Syndrome child,” recalls Donna. “I wanted to make sure I really wanted to do this kind of work.”

After working in hospital settings in Phoenix and Denver, Donna landed at Yavapai Regional Medical Center in 1987, as one of only a few occupational therapists working in the county. She has seen a lot of changes at Yavapai Regional over the years, but one thing remains constant: the caliber of care given to the patients.

Donna believes that the strength of the patient care offered by the Rehabilitation Services Department is rooted in the close and cooperative relationships within the staff.

“Because so many of us have been here a long time, we really know each other well. We’ve experienced milestones together–the celebrations as well as the heartaches,” she says. “New babies, weddings, as well as death and loss. We love each other, and we pass that solid team atmosphere on to our patients. They become part of the team too.”

Rick Logan, Director of Physical Rehabilitation Services, agrees.

“This team is super collaborative, and very, very compassionate,” says Logan. “They are connected to each other and our patients with humility and humanity. All they want to do is make life better for people, and use their skills and education to that end. Everyone on the team is like that. They’re good souls.”

The Rehabilitation Services team recently gained national recognition for their exceptional patient care. They were awarded the Press Ganey 2022 Human Experience (HX) Guardian of Excellence Award®.

“Press Ganey is the nation’s number one healthcare survey organization; some 41,000 healthcare facilities subscribe,” Logan explains. “This year, 347 won the Guardian of Excellence Award. That’s less than 1%, and we were one of them. To receive that kind of recognition when nationally ranked hospitals are in the running is so impressive. Day in and day out, our team does what it takes to provide an incredible patient experience.”

“We weren’t even aware of the award until after we won it,” Donna recalls. “We didn’t change anything we were doing in order to increase our chances. It was just business as usual. We care for the total patient. We listen. We have real, genuine concern.”

2001 was a milestone year for Donna. She identified a growing need in the community and thus found her second calling and a new way to make a difference.

“I received an order to treat a woman with swelling in her arm, which arose following procedures for breast cancer. But I didn’t know how to treat it,” Donna recalls.

The diagnosis was lymphedema, which is swelling in the area where lymph flow is interrupted. It’s often caused by removal of lymph nodes during cancer surgery, or damage to lymph nodes during radiation or trauma. Damaged veins in the legs or an aging lymphatic system can also cause lymphedema. The tissues involved become swollen and hard.

“This can be a painful and debilitating condition,” Donna continues. “Because Prescott has a large retiree population, the number of people experiencing lymphedema from cancer or vein-related issues is high, yet at the time, no one in the Prescott area was qualified to treat it.”

Donna received her Certified Lymphedema Therapist training through an Australian program, then passed national certification by the Lymphology Association of North America. She then established the Lymphedema Management Program at Yavapai Regional, a first for all of Yavapai County.

“More that 90% of her patient volume is now lymphatic,” says Logan. “Donna has an incredible following, with an amazing success rate for her patients. She certainly filled a very important need. The community is so grateful.”

“It is so rewarding seeing past patients in the community who come up and give me a hug and tell me how much they have appreciated my help in the past, and are still doing their home therapy,” Donna reflects. “It gives me a sense of pride that their treatment worked, and they continue to see the positive results.”

“It just comes down to helping people live their best life.”

Click here to learn more about Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center Physical Rehabilitation Services.

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