by Tara Anderson
Suzie Lefever was born to serve. In 1994 she found her calling as the only private physical therapist on San Juan Island. She purchased an existing business, San Juan Physical Therapy, and got to work healing and training with a focus on understanding her clients. She describes the community as welcoming from the start.
Physical Therapy typically requires multiple visits that are less than an hour in duration. Having to travel to the mainland for these services is a burden creating a barrier for patients in need. Lefever’s commitment to providing access to these services on San Juan Island benefits the public by making treatment accessible.
Lefever’s no-fuss character and genuine care for her patients comes through in even a brief conversation. In many cases, Lefever has treated multiple generations of the same family. “You are involved in their lives, their kids, grandkids, aunts and uncles,” said Lefever, explaining it makes for better care.
According to Lefever, trust is the most important aspect of recovery. “I can’t help you get better if you don’t listen to me,” she said. “I feel very blessed that the community trusts me with their healthcare. We’ve all gotten older together,” she said. “We have a very active older population. People here are intelligent and artistic.”
Early in her career, Lefever worked as an athletic trainer. “It was a male-dominated industry,” stated Lefever, who earned less than her male counterparts. Lefever explained she didn’t mind the pay inequity as long as she was able to do work that was meaningful. Lefever continues to support athletics by volunteering with Friday Harbor High School sports teams. “I help them figure out who to play, who to patch, and who should sit out.” She has been volunteering with local sports teams for over 25 years.
Lefever enjoys the problem-solving aspect of her work. “It’s like a puzzle,” she said describing how patients come in with an injury but it’s not always the linear solution they expect. “I’m not connected to a diagnosis. I’m more interested in why you got hurt, not what it’s called.” She is dedicated to getting a full understanding of her patient’s lifestyles and habits to help them recover and lead an active life. When asked what her favorite part of being a physical therapist is, she replied: “The fun part is keeping people better.”
COVID-19 forced San Juan Physical Therapy to discontinue group training sessions and exercise classes. Lefever is challenged when responding to all the needs in the community because of the pandemic. There is a backlog of people who were not able to receive surgery during mandatory medical closures. Now people are able to access services as hospitals and clinics open back up. This means more demand for post-surgery physical therapy than normal. Lefever and her staff are working extra to fill the need for services and still find time to help less urgent cases. Lefever asks individuals to be patient and persistent if they need to schedule an appointment. “We care and we’ll do our best,” she said.