“If you’ve ever wanted to meet Wonder Woman, here is your opportunity,” said Christopher Dromey, chair of the Department of Communication Disorders, at the start of the 2019 Alumni Achievement Award Lecture. This year’s award recipient, Sarah Scott, MS, CCC-SLP, may not wear gold cuffs or brandish a lasso, but she has changed many lives through her career in speech-language pathology.
As a certified speech-language pathologist, Scott works with patients who struggle to speak or articulate words, swallow, cognitively understand speech, and even move certain body parts. Scott’s work is based in Pointe Meadows Health and Rehabilitation, where she helps patients with serious medical injuries. Her patients often struggle with degenerative brain diseases like dementia coupled with physical ailments.
These difficult medical cases require Scott to observe and think deeply about each unique situation. “Being a therapist is like being a detective. You have to watch very closely,” Scott explained. Her goal at Pointe Meadows is to ensure that every patient has the chance to be evaluated for possible change in treatment because it’s not always obvious what is happening.
One patient whom Scott assessed was a woman diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was known for screaming and being aggressive with the nurses. Through careful review, Scott discovered that the woman’s progressive disease had caused her to become deaf and blind. With this realization, Scott said, “She’s not behaving poorly; she’s behaving predictably.”
Thinking carefully about the patient and her situation allowed Scott to understand how she could create a better care plan for the woman. Scott’s evaluation provided the woman with increased ability to live, move, and be happy. “That’s everything to give somebody,” Scott said. “These are people, real people, some loved and some unloved, but they all deserve us asking the question ‘Why? Why is this happening?’” Scott’s core belief in her work is that all people need to be treated as people and not just names on a clipboard.
Scott developed a strong passion for speech-language pathology when she came to BYU in 2009 as a single mother undergraduate student. She loved her classes and the things that she learned—from anatomy to medical treatments. She remembered with a laugh, “In class I was up at front thinking ‘oh my gosh this is so cool, why doesn’t everybody love this’?”
But her time in college was not all butterflies and speech analysis. “I felt a lot of pressure coming back to school . . . but I also felt really determined and filled with purpose,” said Scott. “I knew that the Lord would help me.”
Completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years required Scott to learn collegiate reading and writing. Professors in the program challenged her to think critically beyond immediate and obvious problems. While it was an adjustment, Dromey recalls that Scott’s “thirst for knowledge” allowed her to thrive at Brigham Young University. Since her graduation in 2014, Scott has proven a capable therapist instrument in her field.
Scott understands that the challenges her patients face are more than medical: they experience depression and anxiety, miss out on common social situations, and struggle with life skills that come easily to most. She strives to meet the various needs of her patients by thinking outside the box. Scott said, “Therapy has got to be functional. . . . You can do some things out of a workbook, but what is meaningful?”
Another one of Scott’s patients was a young woman with a deformity in the brain that protruded into the spinal column. She had spent months in the hospital, gone through numerous surgeries, and dealt with cognitive impairment and reduced executive function. She couldn’t read or write. Her work with Scott included co-treatment with physical and occupational therapy to improve cognitive functions as they apply to basic life skills, such as cooking.
Scott recalled an activity where they created a list of meals they would learn to cook together in order to strengthen cognitive skills. First, they made a recipe box. “Then from there we did pathfinding—that’s a really hard thing to do. . . . So, we did therapy in the grocery store. We had to prepare for it first with a map of the grocery store and where things are” for each part of the dish. After years of dedicated therapy and hard work, Scott’s patient overcame her weaknesses and developed skills that have allowed her to build a beautiful life as a wife and mother.
Scott doesn’t attribute her success to any superpowers but to the Lord and a valuable BYU education that prepared her for speech-language pathology. Scott has literally changed lives, and for many patients, become their personal hero. However, the true nature of Sarah’s heroism is not the physical recovery but the passion and love she feels for each person she serves. Her opening and closing message to the McKay School was this, “In whatever you choose to do you have got to see people as people. You have to love them and care for them . . . and you have to think about what is going on. . . . In the end, they are the ones who change your life.”
Click here to read the Fall 2019 McKay Today Magazine article about Sarah Scott.
Writer: Hannah Taylor
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922