For CSUDH lecturer and physical therapist Jennifer Lučarević, helping people to fulfill their dreams of walking is one of the best perks of the job. So, when she was asked by “The Ellen Show” to help Christi Hoehn—a bilateral amputee—walk unassisted in just six weeks, Lučarević was up for the challenge.
Hoehn was being featured by “Next Chapter,” a series on “The Ellen Show” that follows stories about people on the verge of major life changes. Hoehn, who has used a wheelchair for the past 16 years, had set a goal for herself of not only giving her first motivational speech to an audience, but also to walk onto the stage unassisted on her new prosthetic legs. The Ellen Show producers surprised Hoehn with one-on-one physical therapy sessions with Lučarević, who specializes in gait training for people with new prostheses.
“I really admired Christi because her goal was extremely ambitious,” Lučarević said. “Four to six months would have been a more realistic timeline. She had a fantastic attitude, and wanted to do this for herself.”
Lučarević wasn’t the only Toro assisting Hoehn, whose therapy and exercises often took place at the CSUDH Orthotic and Prosthetic Education Center. Uilliam Yongjin Lee, who earned his master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics at CSUDH, built Hoehn’s prostheses. Current students at the center were able to observe how Lee and Lučarević worked together to create adjustments and overcome challenges as the weeks continued.
“It was full circle for our students, being able to learn from an alum,” Lučarević said. “That’s what’s cool about this profession—people build relationships and give back.”
To help Hoehn reach her goal, Lučarević assigned a “pretty aggressive” exercise program, and also accompanied her to the gym to show her how to safely use equipment. At the end of the six weeks, Hoehn was able to walk in front of family and friends before delivering her speech. For Lučarević, seeing Hoehn succeed was “utterly magical.”
“We don’t always get to see the impact, or how friends and family perceive the change,” she said. “I got to see the journey, the hard days, the tears. It means that much more to be invited into her world and see her actualize her dream.
“Don’t be afraid to chase those goals, as hard as they seem,” she added. “If you’re willing to put in the work, magic does happen.”