handIn high school, Erica Hranicka’s mother handed her a stack of career quiz books in preparation for college. One of the career choices in the book was occupational therapy, a job that “really focused on getting people as independent as possible despite whatever had happened to them,” said Hranicka, who grew up in Maine and attended the University of New Hampshire.
For Hranicka, who lists independence as one of her core values, pursuing a career in occupational therapy “seemed right to me.” She has worked as a certified hand therapist — a specialty practice area of occupational therapy that treats orthopedic hand and upper extremity conditions — for almost two decades (the last three years at Rebound’s Redmond clinic).
Working as a hand therapist is intellectually stimulating for Hranicka, who described hands and arms as “complicated body parts.”
Treating orthopedic hand and upper extremity conditions is complex due to the amount of structures in a small area and the dynamics between those structures (including bones, joints, muscles and tendons), she explained. “Just opening and closing your fingers involves so many structures — there’s a lot going on from our elbows to our fingertips that we don’t think about.”
Creativity is a key element of Hranicka’s role as a hand therapist; she regularly fabricates custom orthoses (splints) designed to support painful joints, protect healing injuries and reduce nerve compressions in the hand and wrist. Common diagnoses that may require an orthosis include fractures, strained ligaments, arthritis and repetitive strain disorders.
Hranicka also works with patients to modify activities like gardening that may be difficult to perform with an injured hand or arm. “A patient may not be able to garden in the same way, but there are adaptive techniques and devices that can help them.”
As a hand therapist, Hranicka provides patients with the necessary resources to recover from an injury while promoting independence. Part of the process involves “celebrating the little things like a patient being able to wash their face by themselves again.”
Outside of work, Hranicka is an active volunteer for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue K-9 Team — a pursuit that stems from her passion for the outdoors. Hranicka’s Australian Kelpie, Otter, is one of several dogs on the team that uses scent to help locate and aid lost, distressed and/or injured individuals in remote wilderness areas of the county.
As a trained Wilderness First Responder, Hranicka can provide medical attention in the field when necessary. Her involvement with the Search and Rescue team is another way for Hranicka to help others: “I love being outdoors working with my dog and serving the community.”