Profile of a Veteran: Phyllis Carlton

By Wendy Campbell:

Phyllis Carlton
Phyllis Carlton
Phyllis Carlton

It seems particularly fitting in this first online presence of Update, when anniversaries are abounding, to celebrate a pioneer in our two professions – the only person I know trained in both OT and PT separately, before anyone had thought of combining them.

Phyllis Carlton graduated as an occupational therapist from the University of Toronto in 1940. She took her first position with a Curative Workshop run by the Red Cross in Windsor, working as a volunteer for the first 6 months until a salaried position became available (sound familiar?)

WWll was raging in Europe and she enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was posted in England, working for the duration of the war in a Canadian military hospital in the Hampshire village of Bramshott, a bit north of London. Although the needs of the injured soldiers were serious and varied and the OT’s well trained to work with them, the supplies issued were limited to needlework kits, so a great deal of creative improvisation was necessary…something that comes naturally to OT’s

Phyl’s thinking was broadened by her wartime experience and she decided it was important to broaden her training as well. She was convinced of the value of OT’s and PT’s working together and when she found that her OT background would be credited at Duke University in North Carolina, she enrolled and proudly graduated as a physiotherapist in 1953.

Returning to Canada just as the field of rehabilitation was emerging, Phyl found the newly formed Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society offered an opportunity to use both disciplines. She liked being involved in educating patients and family members and loved the practicality of working in patients’ homes, using their own kitchens and bathrooms to practice activities of daily living. Marion Leslie-Bethune, a former colleague at CARS remembers watching, fascinated, as Phyl skillfully fashioned splints (using plaster of paris, the available material of the time) an early indication of her talents with her hands.

After a productive eight years, she was ready for a new challenge and accepted a position as Coordinator of Therapies – OT, PT and Speech – at the Wellesley Hospital.   Phyl earned the respect and loyalty of her staff by being a supportive leader and setting high professional standards. Barbara Jackson, another colleague, remembers how Phyl was always fair and prepared to pitch in and work on a week-end or holiday to give staff members with young families a break. When the Director of Rehabilitation Medicine decided to replace physiotherapists who left with kinesiologists, at lower salaries, she defended her staff, and, along with the head of PT and OT resigned in protest. The courage of her stance inspired eighteen of the twenty four therapists in the department (both OT’s and PT’s) to resign in solidarity. This move united the group in the spring of 1972 and they have remained in touch ever since, meeting annually (often in Phyl’s home) over the past 44 years.

Her talents for leadership and organization took Phyl next to develop a Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Toronto East General Hospital which she directed for 12 years before retiring in 1983.

Throughout her career and well into her retirement, Phyl has been a keen weaver – spinning, dying and producing beautiful lengths of cloth on two large looms in her home. Using the fabric, she made clothes for herself as well as upholstering furniture and cutting small squares to adorn Christmas and birthday cards. She often can be seen in one of the beautiful sweaters that she’s knitted over the years, reflecting her keen sense of colour and design. A lifelong member of the Toronto Guild of Spinners and Weavers, Phyl retains many contacts in that community.

Last November for their annual get together, the Wellesley gang brought food, cutlery, dishes, and glasses – everything necessary for a gracious lunch – to a sunny dining room on the Veteran’s Wing at Sunnybrook in Toronto where Phyl now lives. They came from all directions, united by their fondness and respect for a fellow professional who had inspired them and influenced their practices and their lives early in their careers. At 97, Phyl continues to enjoy these reunions and retains her calm sense of herself and what things are important in life.

I feel very lucky to have had a chance to meet and get to know Phyllis Carlton as I prepared this piece and have been struck by the loyalty and affection she’s inspired in her colleagues. She has a well deserved place in our history and a life membership in the Canadian Physiotherapy Association recognizes the important part she’s played in our formation as a rehabilitation profession.

Danny Slack Interview by Wendy Campbell our roving reporter

Photo of Daniel Slack
Daniel Slack

To inaugurate the first issue of our alumnae bulletin in this new format, we’re launching a series of profiles of graduates showing how and where they’ve taken their place among the new and exciting developments in health care

When I first met Danny Slack about 5 years ago, he was an undergraduate in physiology, playing guitar and singing with a group of young musicians doing a weekly gig with patients at the Toronto Grace Health Centre. Next thing I knew he was a physio student and we discovered our common background. He graduated with an MScPT in 2015 (chosen by his classmates to be valedictorian) and is now on staff at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in the Critical Care Unit.    

Since it’s possible for a person in acute care  to lose up to 40% of their strength in a week, Danny  and other members of a team focus on combating weakness  with early mobilization and as much activity as is safe for the patient.  There may be trauma from traffic accidents or advancing medical conditions and the challenge Danny faces as a physiotherapist is to find exercises that will challenge the muscles while accommodating equipment and allowing the healing process to progress. It may be as simple as passive range of motion movements and encouraging deep breathing, but the intervention gives patients a sense of hope that they will progress to more.   

Danny’s first job, six years as a firefighter in his native UK, gave him a sense of how he liked working in an area of critical activity and as part of a team. His experiences in an undergraduate placement at Sunnybrook and as a musician at the Grace exposed him to a range of people and conditions and strengthened his sense of purpose. He loves his current job and, although it can be heart breaking  at times, the support of the team and the importance of the work he’s doing make him very happy with his choice of career.