Tawn Dingwall leans on an exercise bike in the ocean-facing rehab department at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital. The newly returned physiotherapist also works in the new Haida Gwaii Hospital, where an occupational therapist is also working part-time.

Physiotherapist comes home

“Several people have reminded me that this was my long-term goal, five or six years ago.”

Tawn Dingwall is home and helping on Haida Gwaii.

It took years of study and work across the water, but Dingwall returned to the islands in April to work as a full-time physiotherapist.

“It’s a really good feeling,” she says.

“Several people have reminded me that this was my long-term goal, five or six years ago.”

Dividing her time between the rehab clinics in the north- and south-end hospitals, Dingwall helps people regain their strength after a surgery, illness, or injury.

The position had been vacant since June.

“We’re very pleased to have a local person come back to do it,” said Angenita Gerbracht, manager of rehabilitation services for Northern Health.

Gerbracht is also glad to have another islander recently start work as an occupational therapist, mainly to help elders living at the new Haida Gwaii Health Centre/Ngaaysdll Naay. That position is limited to 11 hours a week for now, but may expand in future.

“It’s a foot in the door,” she said.

Born in Queen Charlotte, Dingwall went away to the University of Calgary for disability studies and community rehabilitation, but returned each year to work at the ReDiscovery summer program.

It meant more schooling and time off-island, but Dingwall decided to do her master’s in physiotherapy so she could advance her career and still do hands-on work with people.

After finishing her degree in Hamilton, she briefly worked at a Toronto-area clinic before practicing for four years in Kitimat — another place where a physiotherapist has to be ready to treat almost any condition.

Dingwall is backed by a team of colleagues in Prince Rupert, including specialists who she consults partly to help Haida Gwaiians avoid extra trips off-island.

At the northern health centre, Dingwall and her patients enjoy a bright room with views out to Masset Inlet.

Both clinics have exercise gear — stationary bikes, treadmills, parallel bars — and things like a half-set of stairs for strengthening exercises and practice using crutches.

In the new south-end clinic, Dingwall also has access to what looks like a small kitchen with wheelchair-accessible countertops — good for doing physical exercises similar to the things people actually need to do at home.

Gerbracht said the kitchen area is shared by the occupational therapist, and is handy for things like assessing people’s home safety before they leave hospital. Mental health workers use it too, for life-skills training.

“We want to use the space as well as possible, and make it multi-purpose,” she said.

Dingwall said it feels great to finally be home doing the work she has long wanted to do. From the sound of it, her family is pretty happy, too.

“I’ve been on the beach with my dad, and in the garden with my mom,” she said, laughing.