Getting a Grip on the Future

Hand therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Center restores quality of life

Daryl Burnworth poses at Covenant Health Therapy Center.

Building a gun cabinet with the help of his 16-year-old son, Daryl Burnworth had no reservations about using a table saw.

“I used it all the time,” says the Kingston resident. “I’d never had a close call.”

While Daryl was using the fast-moving saw, the wood slipped from his grip for a fleeting second. Then, as he prepared to make the next cut, he noticed something that brought his work to a sudden stop.

“I looked down at the garage floor, and I saw a finger,” Daryl says.

The table saw had sliced a portion of two fingers from his left hand. It was December, and by the next day, Daryl was in a room at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, listening to a doctor explain why the severed portions couldn’t be reattached and the hand couldn’t be made whole.

Daryl’s response was characteristically practical.

“That doesn’t matter,” he told the doctor. “It’s too late. Let’s just talk about where we can go from here.”

Help Near Home

The doctor at Vanderbilt recommended Daryl schedule an appointment with a certified hand therapist. Daryl had doubts, but if hand therapy meant a chance to keep his landscaping business, he knew he had to try. The job provided important extra income for his family.

Reviewing Vanderbilt’s list of qualified and recommended occupational therapists in the Knoxville area, Daryl and his wife noticed one was close to home. She was Linda Preston, an occupational therapist-clinical specialist at Covenant Health Therapy Center – Harriman.

“Occupational therapists who treat adults with orthopedic injuries specialize in returning people to regular activities after injuries,” Preston says. “85 percent of the certified hand therapists are occupational therapists, specialists evaluating and treating traumatic hand injuries.”

In this case, she had her work cut out for her. Daryl’s injuries were especially complicated, and he was less than enthusiastic about occupational therapy.

“I thought it was a scam – a racket,” Daryl confesses. “I’ve since learned different. It’s been very, very beneficial.”

Preston encouraged Daryl to apply his strength and high-level work ethic to regain use of his severely injured hand. Daryl calls her “relentless,” a clinical specialist who never gave up.

“I measured his range of motion, assessed his wounds, evaluated his sensation, and kept a close eye on his tendon healing protocols – when to progress the patient week by week,” Preston says of their first meeting. She also had to remove his sutures, which was a difficult process. “His first visit took one hour and 45 minutes. It usually only takes one hour.”

The therapy was administered in close cooperation with the medical staff at Vanderbilt. Preston even crafted splints to help Daryl recover after he injured his hand trying to work on a lawnmower at home.

A Gripping Goal

Daryl’s goal was to get his grip back by springtime so he could return to his landscaping business and operate the mower and weed eaters alongside his son. Today he grips a tube-shaped piece of foam at the therapy center to prove Preston helped him succeed in reaching that goal.

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can pull it out of my hand,” Daryl says. “There’s no way you can because I’ve got a hold on it. That’s like a miracle.”

Certified hand therapists specialize in helping patients find ways to complete tasks and engage in activities without normal strength and range of motion. For Daryl, that means a restored quality of life and the ability to continue providing for his family.

“I couldn’t even move my fingers. The muscles were still there, but I couldn’t call on them. I was very limited in what I could do,” Daryl says, recalling his first days of hand therapy. “Now it’s almost like it was before. I got my grip back, and I owe it to her.”

For information about hand therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Center – Harriman, call 865-316-2950 or visit





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