It's not often an individual's career path is formed in middle school, but when Melissa Lariviere shadowed her aunt, a physiotherapist working at a children's treatment centre, a spark was ignited.
"I remember being exposed to different health care professions and experiencing what it felt like to be part of a multidisciplinary team," Melissa recalls. "In high school, I started volunteering at summer camps for children with disabilities, and I knew for certain that I wanted a career where I could help others."
In 2014, Melissa completed her Master's degree in the French Health Sciences program with a specialization in Speech Language Pathology from Laurentian University. A member of the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, she joined the North East CCAC team just over a year ago.
Melissa says one of the things she loves about her job is the opportunity to work with a variety of patients with a wide range of needs, and not only related to speech and language. "I have patients who have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, ALS, and developmental disorders, as well as patients suffering from strokes, brain injuries, or cancers," Melissa says. "In addition to helping my patients improve their speech and language skills, I am also very involved in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders."
Melissa recently began working with Denise Therrien, who was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a rare brain disorder that affects movement, control of walking and balance, speech, swallowing and vision.
"Before Melissa came to us, my wife would really struggle at meal time," explains Denise's husband, Armand Therrien. "In addition to her difficulty swallowing, she couldn't get her words out regardless of how hard she tried. She basically stopped talking."
Melissa worked with Denise to resolve her swallowing issues, and is now focused on improving her speech patterns. "My communication is much better," says Denise proudly. "I can talk to my children and grandchildren again!"
Sometimes therapists have to get creative in their approach to treatment. Melissa recalls two long-term care home residents who each suffered from expressive aphasia after a stroke. Both had hit a plateau in their individual language therapy programs.
"I organized a therapy group at the residence and both patients flourished," Melissa says. "They offered each other praise and encouragement, which motivated them to make gains during the group sessions, as well as with their individual therapy sessions."
Melissa says she enjoys the privilege of visiting patients in their own homes. "I believe that offering in-home services is crucial to patients so that they can worry less about getting to appointments and concentrate more on their therapy goals," Melissa states. "Receiving treatment in a familiar environment, helps reduce stress and anxiety."
So did Melissa make the right career choice?
"I love seeing my patients succeed due to my recommendations," Melissa says proudly. "This profession is not always easy, but I'm always learning new things. I truly enjoy being part of each patient's journey to living a better life."
Her patients agree. "Melissa has given me the gift of enjoying a meal again, and to communicate with my family," says Denise. "Words cannot describe how much that means to me."