PT Profile: Eileen McEown | Nov 1, 2011

Eileen McEown, one of the founding members of the NDPTA, celebrated her 96th birthday this year. Eileen is a well-known therapist in Minot, but we felt that her story should be shared with the other NDPTA members.

Eileen always wanted to be in the medical field and, as a child, would perform operations on her dolls in her home surgery the bathroom. The skills she gained there eventually led her to Kellogg School of Physical Education. When she graduated, she taught physical education in Iowa.

Eileen wanted to attend a physio-therapy program, but World War II broke out. In 1943, she joined the American Red Cross and was deployed to Italy. Eileen was a program director working at the rest centers. Servicemen would come off the front line and have military leave at these rest centers. Eileen was in Naples, Isle of Capri, and San Severo during the war. While in Italy, she injured her back and was sent to a regional hospital. The Army Physical Therapists treated her with moist heat, ultrasound, massage, and exercise. This incident further peaked her interest in physical therapy.

Upon returning to the U.S.A. in October of 1945, she applied to the Mayo Clinic Physical Therapy Program, but the class was full at that time. It wasn't until 1948 that she was accepted. At that time, if you had a degree, the physical therapy course was completed in one year. She graduated in 1949 and worked for three years at the outpatient clinic at Mayo.

In 1952, Eileen returned to Minot and started work at the VA Hospital. Zora Sallee was the physical therapist at St. Joseph's Hospital and was short-handed. The hospital administrator, Mother Alma, contacted Eileen and, in 1955, she began her 21-year history with St. Joseph's Hospital.

Eileen retired in 1976, but she couldn't stand it. She missed working with people and would often stop to visit us in the physical therapy department. As can be expected, it wasn't long until she happened into a "temporary" job at the Flower box delivering flowers and had her second retirement 24 years later at the age of 92.

There have been many changes since Eileen was a physical therapist. She recalls treating patients during the polio outbreak, using wool hot packs that you would wring out and wrap around the extremities. She still had an old price list where most of the modalities were $1 to $1.50. We both remembered writing all our progress notes on a 5 x 9 card and we probably saw them for two months! She remembered fracturing the head of her radius and carrying pails of sand to increase her ROM and using the "Wheel of Torture!" She stated that when she was at Mayo Clinic, the Queen of Egypt used to come every year and would take over a whole wing at St. Mary's Hospital. She would always bring toys to all the children in the Pediatric Wing.

For me, Eileen McEown and Sidona Ryan, a PT aide at St. Joseph's Hospital, were the reasons I became interested in physical therapy. As a candy striper, I worked in the department and saw them working with patients, seeing them get better while at the same time seeing the genuine concern for the patient and the true enjoyment they had working with patients. After I was accepted into physical therapy, I worked summers with them and I feel it was this experience that helped me become the therapist I am today.

From her contributions in WWII to her work as a physical therapist, and finally to mentoring therapists in the field of physical therapy Eileen McEown is someone who has made an outstanding contribution to our profession.