Every Step of the Way

Jackie Krempasky slowly lifted William Beachem from his wheelchair, gently pulling him to his feet between the parallel bars. Neither knew what to expect.

“When I first saw him in his long leg braces and wheelchair, he looked very fragile,” said Krempasky, a Widener University physical therapy graduate student.

It had been months since Beachem last stood, following the motorcycle accident that compressed his body and left him with broken femurs and ankles, requiring multiple surgeries and weeks of confinement in a hospital bed. The 49-year-old had feared he wouldn’t survive the crash, let alone stand again.

But there he was, one evening, standing upright inside the nationally recognized pro bono Chester Community Clinic, which is led by doctoral students from Widener’s Institute for Physical Therapy Education.

And just moments after standing, Beachem managed the remarkable – his first steps. With Krempasky there to steady and support him, he began tentatively walking back and forth between the bars.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Beachem said, tearfully recalling the moment. “It was the start of the rest of my life.”

It was an emotional moment for Krempasky, as well. She is part of a team of Widener students who are helping Beachem put his life, and his body, back together. Three days a week he rehabs at the clinic, which serves uninsured and underinsured patients in the Chester area.

“I’m completely indebted to the students. They’re very caring,” said Beachem. “Widener has been there every step of the way.”

Now in its ninth year, the clinic tallies about 1,000 patient visits per year. Under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, the students log more than 4,500 hours evaluating and compassionately treating patients of all ages, helping people recover from trauma, accidents, strokes, sports injuries, surgeries, and more. The students also run the administrative side of the clinic.

As patients regain mobility, students gain real-world clinical experience.

“It’s so beneficial to get hands-on experience, not just to practice what you learn in the class, but the socialization part, to talk to patients and to not be afraid to touch them,” said Krempasky.

Krempasky is a student in Widener’s 3+3 program, which enables physical therapy students to earn their bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in just six years. She was drawn to the university in part by the clinic. And Krempasky already knows that the day she helped Beachem stand up will stand out for her throughout her career as a physical therapist.

“I am proud of myself for being a part of that milestone,” said Krempasky. “I am thankful to have already experienced one of those moments because of this clinic, and I am so grateful Widener offered me this experience as a student.”

Although Beachem lives in Maryland and was hospitalized in Washington, D.C., following the accident, he grew up in Chester, and returned home to recuperate, surrounded by his family. The rehabilitation hospital in Washington had recommended Widener’s pro bono clinic for his therapy.

“They said ‘call Widener.’ I said ‘I know Widener. I grew up next to Widener.’”

Since his arrival at the clinic, Beachem’s progress has been swift. Shortly after taking his first steps, he traded his wheelchair for a walker, and recently Krempasky and other students helped him transition to crutches.

Beachem is determined to restore his mobility and his life. The road to recovery may be long, but he knows Widener students will be at his side.

“I’m up for the work. I want to walk,” he said.

And Krempasky has no doubts he will succeed. “He is one of the most dedicated patients we’ve ever seen here.”

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