It was a familiar scene in their Sochaczew, Poland home, though not in others. A mother and her preschool daughter huddled over an anatomy atlas from the mother’s nursing classes. Although not yet able to read, the images on the book’s pages piqued Selena Suszczynska’s interest.
Suszczynska was born with moderate scoliosis. Sessions with her physical therapist corrected her posture and influenced her future career direction. Their interaction improved Suszczynska’s quality of life and the lives of the many patients she would go on to treat. Never underestimate the power of time spent with children.
She obtained her master’s degree in physical therapy from Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego in Warsaw in 1992. Upon graduation, she worked in an outpatient physical therapy clinic, providing treatment to reduce pain and facilitate healing for patients after orthopedic interventions.
Shortly after that, Suszczynska and her husband, Jacek, were invited to the United States along with other foreign-trained physical therapists under a program that offered assistance with the legal aspects of relocation.
“We were young and ready to explore the world,” she said. “Traveling and working in our profession sounded very tempting, so we signed a 2-year contract.”
Tennessee and Florida regulations allowed foreign temporary licenses, and the pair landed in Atlanta on Thanksgiving in 1995. “True pilgrims, we were!” she laughed.
The couple’s medical director, Laura Clark, and administrator, Kathy Smith, welcomed them and played instrumental roles in making Fayetteville and its health system their second home. As a therapist at HH Lincoln Health, Suszczynska works with patients on an outpatient and inpatient basis, assisting in recovery from surgeries and sickness and restoring and maintaining their physical function. She utilizes treatments that alleviate pain, help to regain balance, strengthen muscles, and improve the range of motion in the joints to avoid disabling situations.
“Movement is crucial, allowing our heart to circulate blood properly to all its parts, allowing our lungs to breathe fully, allowing our muscles to get stronger, and our joints to develop. It controls blood sugar levels, strengthens our immune system, releases stress from our minds, and keeps us in our best physical form at every stage of life. And it all happens without the side effects that pills and surgeries leave behind,” said Suszczynska.
The most beneficial thing most of us can do is a daily walk.
“Walking is universal and the least demanding physical activity, pumping blood, ventilating our lungs, and keeping muscles functioning. We can start with short distances at a slow pace and build, gradually increasing both to improve our cardiovascular system. No equipment or gym membership is necessary — just motivation to do a little more every day!” she said.
A sickness that leaves us bedridden for any time sets back our functional mobility, and we need three days to recover from every day spent in bed.
“On average, we lose 17% of our muscle tissue if bed-bound for a week. Physical therapy guidance lets patients return to normal life at their best potential faster and smoother,” said Suszczynska.
And when we’re not at our best physically, Suszczynska and others like her guide us back to a better version of ourselves, capitalizing on what our bodies can do for themselves. She said, “Our muscle-skeletal system has the beautiful ability to heal and the nervous system to compensate, but it needs to be guided by professionals to regain its function. In 99% of the cases, it cannot be magically accomplished in one physical therapy session. It takes time and the patient’s compliance with the therapist’s recommendations as a daily routine.”
That’s sound advice from a member of a family of healthcare professionals. Suszczynska’s husband visits Lincoln County patients for home health physical therapy. Their son, Alex, will graduate as a doctor of osteopathic medicine in 2025, and their other son, Adam, will complete school as a registered nurse in 2024, carrying forward their parents’ legacy of service.
You’ll find her practicing the lifestyle she prescribes for her patients, balancing work and rest with a nutritious diet and time spent outdoors. But don’t mistake nutritious for blah. Suszczynska’s kitchen comes to life with U.S. dishes with a Southern flare, Polish dishes, and other flavors as she fuses them.
As she experienced as a child, the relationships she builds with her patients as she guides them toward recovery and wellness is the highlight of her job. It’s a healing Transatlantic journey. GN