HOUSTON - Picture yourself navigating through the crowds at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in a wheelchair or walker.
It's a reality for one group of Houston patients who took their road to recovery all the way to the rodeo for some unconventional rehabilitation.
Valerie Oncina's face lit up as she entered the rodeo petting zoo. She's recovering from a spinal cord injury, and she welcomed the challenging trip.
"This is my first time outside in two months, so it's awesome," said Oncina. "I don't mind it at all. It's really good. I like being around people. I've only been in Houston for about a year, so it's one thing I did want to do and luckily, I got to do it."
Oncina joined several other rehabilitation and geriatric patients from Harris Health Quentin Mease Hospital on the therapy field trip.
Recreational therapist Amy Parker said some of the skills the patients are working towards attaining.
"Curbs, getting on and off public transportation, money management, safety awareness obviously is big one that we're doing," said Parker.
Even enjoyable tasks like petting, feeding and brushing the animals serve a purpose and improve fine motor skills.
Many have never been in a wheelchair before, so they're also learning special awareness. In this case, a child or small animal might be the obstacle.
"So if there are any issues that we see out here, then we can take them back to the hospital and re-tweak their therapy so when they go home, they're as independent as possible," said Parker.
John Niedenthal shattered two vertebrae and is now paralyzed from the chest down. He told Local 2 that this day at the rodeo is mentally therapeutic as well.
"It's so much better than being stuck in the hospital every day," said Niedenthal.
The patients generally stay at Mease for two to three weeks before returning to their home environment. Outings like these bring them a little bit closer to independence, Parker said.
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