Allied Health Sciences Alumna Remembered With New Scholarship
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the memory of College of Allied Health Sciences alumna Amanda Heitkamp, DPT, will live on in the form of the "Amanda Blackmon Heitkamp Scholarship Fund,” a new fund for students in the doctor of Physical Therapy program.
Heitkamp, 30, passed away in November, 2012, from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Friends and family remember Heitkamp as a caring, compassionate student, devoted to not only the field, but to the College of Allied Health Sciences and the Rehabilitation Sciences department.
After receiving her Health Sciences degree from UC in 2003, Heitkamp graduated in the first DPT class in 2009. She was diagnosed with ALS two years later.
During her time at UC, she worked as student helper for assistant professor Chalee Engelhard, sharing office space for three years.
"She was an amazing person from the beginning,” remembers Engelhard. "She was very kind and she was an amazing student helper. She was really, really good.” In her studies, Engelhard says Heitkamp was a "standout.”
"Her clinic instructors always spoke positively of her dedication and her willingness to go above and beyond,” says Engelhard. "Her passion for physical therapy was just admirable.”
Husband Ryan Heitkamp says Amanda’s interest in the field started after a bad fall at work left her needing surgery and months of therapy for her recovery, during which she developed a strong relationship with her physical therapist.
In 2009, while in the DPT program, she was diagnosed with a severe case of Crohn’s Disease, requiring many GI procedures and hospital admissions.
"When she was in the hospital after her first two surgeries her doctors would bring students into Amanda's room and tell them that they should be more like her,” says Ryan Heitkamp. "She would be sitting in her bed studying for boards two days after two major bowel surgeries. She felt it all was going to help her be a better physical therapist, because she had spent time as a patient.”
He says Amanda would be very happy that a scholarship with her name will be able to help students study physical therapy.
"Amanda loved working as a helper in the DPT program and was considering earning a teaching degree to eventually become a professor at UC,” he adds. "She was very interested in giving back in whatever way she could.”
Ryan was serving with the Ohio National Guard in Iraq when he got the call that Amanda had been diagnosed with ALS. He took emergency leave as her health started declining. He adds that their faith, their church and his family played a large role in helping them during Amanda’s illness, including with the birth of their healthy daughter Aubrey Grace on April 18, 2012.
As an alumna, Heitkamp maintained a strong connection to the college. In 2011, faculty and students organized a "Walk for Amanda” to raise funds for a wheelchair-accessible van.
"That was a huge help,” says Ryan. "It was awesome. There were students who had never even met Amanda, but they put a lot of work into the walk.”
Last fall, a group of DPT students were able to visit the Heitkamps at home, where Amanda talked to them about living with ALS.
"After they left, she was so happy and excited about the opportunity of being able to talk with them more,” says Ryan Heitkamp. "She felt that, because she was able to help them in that area, that her going to PT school had meaning now, even though she wasn’t able to practice.”
"If Amanda could tell a new PT anything,” adds Ryan, "it would be try to think about how the patient is dealing with things. No matter how difficult they may be on a particular day, they have a good reason. Learning that empathy is something school can’t teach you."