By Harry Minium

I'd love to be able to tell you that I was playing rugby, running the end zone steps at S.B. Ballard Stadium or pulling a child out of the way of a speeding car when I fell and tore my bicep muscle.

But truthfully, I was starting to climb down from my attic when I slipped, hit the attic ladder, then the floor. My left arm got caught between steps and hyperextended.

I wasn't in pain, but the copious amounts of blood and the curious location of my bicep caused me to scream for my wife, Ellen.

The bicep, normally centered between your elbow and shoulder, drifted almost all the way to my shoulder.

"I wonder if they can fix that?" I remember asking as Ellen bandaged the gash in my arm that day in 2019.

"They" turned out to be "Team Monarch," as Dr. Bradley T. Butkovich, the orthopedic surgeon for ODU's athletic teams, likes to call his relationship with Old Dominion University's Monarch Physical Therapy.

When I texted then-ODU football coach Bobby Wilder asking for a recommendation, he replied that Dr. Brad, as I now call him, "was the best in the business."

He may be the most considerate. The day after my mishap, he drove from his Virginia Beach home to the Atlantic Orthopedic office near Norfolk's DePaul Hospital wearing shorts and an ODU shirt. He came on his day off, just hours before his daughter would graduate from Cox High.

The surgery took about an hour. Two weeks later, he sent me to the ODU's Monarch Physical Therapy for rehabilitation, which would take about four months.

I was treated by perhaps a dozen people at Monarch PT. Mabel Sisk was the first student to work on me and like so many of the good people I met there, she was drawn to physical therapy after becoming dissatisfied with her career.

A suburban Richmond native, Sisk was a chef at a gourmet restaurant in Portland, Oregon - she graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts - before she returned to Virginia in search of something more fulfilling.

"There's no human connection in it," she said of cooking. "I missed having a connection with the people I was serving."

She wanted to get into the medical field, in part because she is gifted in math and science and has an exercise science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

"Out of all the professions I considered, this is the one where you get to know people," she said. "I like to know what their work is like, and any use any of the skills we have that can enhance their lives."

ODU has a rigorous physical therapy program - it accepts only about 40 students per year -- and most students spend some time at Monarch PT or working with patients from the clinic, honing their craft under the watchful eyes of a physical therapist. You need a four-year degree to be admitted, including a ton of science courses. To become a PT, you take three more years of graduate classes totaling 116 credits.

At the end, you have earned a doctorate. Sisk will become Dr. Sisk in May.

Ryan Hunt, a Norfolk native, is the physical therapist I most often worked with. He is a graduate of Catholic High in Virginia Beach who majored in music and business at ODU. I refer to him as the "Piano Man," given the piano was his instrument of choice.

He was uncertain about what to do with his life when he suffered an injury and needed physical therapy.

"It was the first time I ever had PT," he said. "As I got treatment, I began to think, 'This is what I want to do.' The people were so nice to me. You could see this is a profession where you really get to help people."

Every time he moved my arm, he explained what he was doing and why. He was focused and at times a bit of a worrywart, something I liked to tease him about.

But he could sense I was in a hurry to get back into the weight room. He convinced me to go slow on rehab and because he did, there were no setbacks.

Care at Monarch PT isn't limited to ODU students and staff. It also serves the general public.

It is run by Dr. Lisa Koperna, a lecturer with the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, who opened Monarch PT in 2014. She also works with patients.

The Monarch PT staff toils in cramped quarters in the Peri Lab building on east side of ODU's campus, but that should change in the near future.

ODU plans to build an $74.9 million Health Sciences Building that will house Monarch PT, the physical therapy and athletic training programs, and the new Doctor of Occupational Therapy program that will begin in a couple of years.

My arm is as close to 100% as you could expect after a serious accident. For that, I owe everyone at Monarch PT a thank you.

Obviously, I owe the same to Dr. Brad, whom I've gotten to know pretty well.

He came to Atlantic Orthopedic in 2012 and has been with ODU almost as long. He's a University of Richmond grad and still proud of his Spiders, but he bleeds ODU blue.

"ODU is a family," he said. "It doesn't matter where you are or what part of ODU you're involved in, everybody helps everyone else out."

Monarch Physical Therapy is located at 1015 West 47th Street on the east side of ODU's campus. For information on getting treatment, call 757-683-7041

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