Led to a Life of Service: Laurie (Burch) Strohmeyer ’96

Laurie (Burch) Strohmeyer graduated from Maryville University’s Occupational Therapy program in 2000. She has now been an occupational therapist (OT) for over 20 years, all because of one service opportunity during her senior year at Westminster.

What led you to want to go into Occupational Therapy?
For my senior service at Westminster, I was placed at Litzsinger School, which serves students with a wide range of abilities. I remember my first day there like it was yesterday. I saw children who used wheelchairs, splints, braces, and walkers, as well as children who couldn’t communicate with spoken words. I was 17 years old and had never been exposed to this population, and it made me sad. After my first day, I went to the Director of Student Service and Leadership, Sara Drexler, to ask for a new placement. She prayed with me and asked me to try working there one more time.

The next time I went to Litzsinger, I saw a distressed little boy leave his classroom with a woman. When he returned to the classroom, he had been transformed. He was calm, focused, and happy. I asked who the woman was and what she did to help the young boy. The teacher told me that she was an occupational therapist — someone who helps people do the things they want and need to do in order to succeed in their daily activities following an injury, illness, or disability. I observed the OT for a while, and I was in awe of her ability to connect with the students and their response to her treatment. It truly changed the way I viewed those children. They showed me that they had capabilities and desires that all children have. That day, at 17 years old, I knew I wanted to become an OT.

What is the most rewarding part of your career? What is the hardest part?
The most rewarding part of my career is being able to work with a huge variety of populations. For the past 20 years, I’ve worked with infants through hospice care as an OT. Though the most difficult part of my job is dealing with patients dying, I cannot imagine doing anything else.

How would you describe your role during COVID?
I work at a skilled nursing facility where I help residents become more independent and able to complete activities of daily life such as brushing their teeth, showering, getting dressed, and eating. We have had COVID-positive residents since April of 2020. Although it has been heartbreaking to lose patients to this virus, I have been extremely grateful for technology. A lot of my patients are able to FaceTime their loved ones who cannot visit them.

What life lessons did you learn from Westminster?
I am forever grateful to the people like Mr. Tim Hall and Mrs. Sara Drexler who believed that I could grow up and become a helper to others. I’ve been an OT for over 20 years now because of people like them.

This piece appeared in the Spring 2021 Chimes.

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