For Sheila Sechser, helping children learn to feed and dress themselves, or how to write with hands made uncooperative by cerebral palsy, has been a rewarding life’s work since she began work here on March 6th, 1967. “Children’s Care becomes a part of your life,” she says. As an occupational therapist, Sheila’s goal for the past 46 years has been to help children learn to be as independent as possible, and to teach others just learning the ropes of “OT” the fine art of patience and compassion when progress is made in very small steps. Always cheerful and unassuming, Sheila has touched the lives of hundreds–perhaps thousands of children, and has helped train generations of professionals in their own budding careers.
A native of Ponca, Nebraska, Sheila first became aware of “Crippled Children’s” through her roommate, Rosemary Devitt (who was later to become her sister-in-law), at Mount Marty College in Yankton. Rosemary had cerebral palsy and had attended school at Crippled Children’s. After graduating from Mount Marty with a biology degree, Sheila enrolled at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN, where she completed her schooling in occupational therapy. Her first experience here was as a therapy student in 1967. “I lived in one of the two apartments downstairs in the building for students,” says Sheila. “It gave me a good feel for the lives of the children at all times of the day and night.” She made a favorable impression as a student and was hired upon graduation.
Sheila says there’s a special atmosphere here that was established by Dr. Morrison, Gaylen Holmes, and other early leaders that has carried on. Many changes have occurred in her profession and at Children’s Care over the years, and she finds that exciting. She has seen the needs change, too, from children who had had polio, to those with muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, to increased numbers of children with behavioral challenges. “The staff here has so much to offer,” she says. “There are so many wonderful things that can be done to help the children improve.”
The kids have kept Sheila at Children’s Care, she says. After working in many capacities, including a stint as department head, Sheila worked ten hours a week in recent years. Her home is close to Children’s Care, and she came in often in the evenings to help oversee feeding, dressing, sensory, and bathing programs for the children. It’s very rewarding, she says, to help a child who can barely hold a fork learn to feed himself independently. “It’s a calling to be here,” she says. “These children are so special.”