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Check Out Patrick Caffrey’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Patrick Caffrey.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
When I broke my neck, it made a sound. In December of 1972, at wrestling practice at Center Senior High School, I was slammed into the mat and became paralyzed from the neck down. From this catastrophic injury, my future career took on a direction. After years of physical and occupational therapy, two neck surgeries and emotional support from my friends, family and God, I received good neurological returns, but only on the right side of my body. I graduated from high school on time (with the help of a personal tutor at my bedside) and applied and was accepted at the University of Central Missouri where I would earn a BS in Psychology with Emphasis in Rehabilitation and MS in Psychology. Next, Dr. Lana Minnigerode, my physiatrist, helped me get hired at the Rehabilitation Institute, my first job in the field of psychology. There I served adults and children with strokes, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and many other neurologically impaired persons, providing individual and group therapy as well as psychological and neuropsychological evaluations. After two years, I applied and was accepted at the University of Missouri and earned a Ph.D. in Vocational Education for the Handicapped. Today and for the past 40-years, I have worked as a psychologist specializing in counseling for the disabled and often say, jokingly, I got into this profession by accident.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Along the way, I was able to walk again but function now with use of only the right side of my body. If you’ve ever had a broken arm or in some way lost the use of an upper extremity, then you know we live in a two-handed world. With the help of my therapists, I learned how to tie my shoes, tie a tie, type, cook, dress, groom and bathe all with one hand. As a college student, I walked with a cane, which occupied my only functional hand, so carrying books was out of the question, so if the instructor made reference to a passage in our textbook, I simply made a notation and visited that passage later back at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house. Driving a car came easily since I had full use of my right arm and leg and had access to a car provided by my parents with automatic transmission. I was married then divorced after only 5-years but gained a beautiful daughter from the union. I lived as a bachelor for the next 12-years before marrying the love of my life, Julianna (a physical therapist). During those 12-years, I had to get good at performing chores and making simple home repairs with no help around, i.e., changing a lightbulb in a ceiling-mounted glass-enclosed fixture, on a step ladder, while not falling or breaking the glass fixture, or taking from the oven a hot bubbly casserole one-handed, clipping my fingernails on the right hand (using my foot), opening jars by trapping the jar between my feet while seated and using my teeth to open packets of ketchup.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
As a psychology student, I was hired at Northeastern Jackson County Mental Health Center as a mental health technician. I gained valuable experience working on an inpatient psychiatric unit serving patients with psychiatric disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression and anxiety disorders. After working there during summers and semester breaks, I completed my undergraduate degree and later a Master’s degree in psychology. I was hired at the Rehabilitation Institute and would serve individuals with disabilities including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, amputations, burns, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, just to mention a few. I worked on the inpatient unit and also provided services to outpatients serving children and adults. My work duties included individual and group psychotherapy, psychological and neuropsychological evaluations. One of my instructors from University of Central Missouri, Malcolm Flanagan, taught a course at the Rehabilitation Institute. During one of his visits to the facility, he told me about a new doctorate program at the University of Missouri. This unique program would provide me with a Ph.D. in Vocational Education for the Handicapped, which is best described as a hybrid degree pulling from psychology, health services management, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, and special education. This was the closest doctorate I could find to getting a Ph.D. in “disability.” I completed my doctorate in 1985 after publishing by dissertation “Acknowledgment of Disability in a Simulated Employment Interview.”

I was subsequently hired at a private rehabilitation firm as the director of psychological services and eventually would return to work at the Rehabilitation Institute. I was able to further my education and training in the field of neuropsychology under the supervision of David Butler, Ph.D. After working there for three years, I was hired as a neuropsychologist at Rebound which was a private company serving children and adults with traumatic brain injuries and other neurological conditions. I worked primarily in the residential treatment program providing individual and group psychotherapy as well as psychological and neuropsychological evaluations.

In 1992, I started Caffrey Comprehensive Services, which is my private practice specializing in counseling for the disabled. In addition, I provide psychological, neuropsychological and vocational evaluations. This includes providing assessments for worker’s compensation, litigation and clinical assessments. Also, and since 1988, I have been part of the allied health staff at North Kansas City Hospital where I also provide assessments regarding mental capacity and for purposes of rehabilitation planning and discharge planning.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
I was told many times that I was lucky because I gained back much of my motor and sensory functions. I was lucky that my spinal cord injury was incomplete and not complete. I was able to reclaim basic functions such as walking, driving a car, all aspects of self-care and lead a normal life. Call it luck, but along the way, I had help, lots of help. My father, a physician, recruited for me the best local medical team including my neurosurgeon Revis Lewis and many other medical specialists. I was fortunate to receive top shelf care at Research Medical Center without the need to seek rehabilitation services at an out-of-town facility. This allowed me to maintain close contact with my parents, seven brothers, friends and extended family. My career, especially my private practice, benefited greatly from luck by having the right training, being in the right place at the right time to meet demand for the services I provide as the field of psychology was turning more toward neuroscience.

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