TOGETHER We Thrive with Susan Henderson '69

In Episode 2 of TOGETHER We Thrive, alumna Susan Henderson '69 shares her family's connection to Radford University and why she supports a program that impacts the quality of life.

Susan Henderson '69 graduated with a degree from Radford's College of Education and Human Development

Susan Henderson ’69 and her family are the embodiment of what TOGETHER means. They are unified in their love and support for granddaughter, Mya, who was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy (mitochondrial disorder). Working together, they have found the support services that Mya has needed to be able to communicate and have some mobility. Occupational therapy has been a force in Mya’s life, and Henderson and her family have rallied around her to ensure that she has access to exceptional services and care. During this journey they have made a commitment to helping others with special needs have the same access to therapy, and for Henderson, this access begins with supporting the education and training of the next generation of occupational therapists.

Early on, the family connected with occupational therapist Vesna Costello who provided pediatric therapy to Mya. Costello was a practicing professional therapist at the time. Today, she is an instructor and academic field work coordinator in Radford University’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

“As an occupational therapist, Vesna takes a person with minimal capabilities and maximizes them. That’s the joy of occupational therapy,” said Henderson.

Now 18 years old, Mya has made strides in her ability to communicate her needs to her family. She is vocal but not verbal, so the family has developed their own type of sign language to communicate with her. While Mya cannot sign letters with her fingers, with occupational therapy she can use her large motor skills that allow her to use her hands and arms.

Susan and granddaughter, Mya

“When we lost Vesna as a personal therapist for Mya and found out she was coming to Radford, we decided that’s where we needed to focus some of our resources because I can’t think of anything better than to have someone of her skills, her qualities and her qualifications training other young people to go out and be pediatric occupational therapists,” said Henderson.

Occupational therapy gives people with disabilities a way to physically do the mundane, everyday things that they want to accomplish on their own. For Henderson, providing care for her granddaughter and giving her the opportunity to experience life as best she can, is a commitment that she and her family made to Mya. She says before Radford’s program, families in Southwest Virginia had to travel to Roanoke for pediatric therapy.

“After experiencing personally within my own family, a child, who is a now a young adult, and who has needs and wants to do things on her own, I found that it was really difficult to find good pediatric occupational therapists. There seems to be a shortage of pediatric occupational therapists. When Radford started its program, I was very excited and felt that it is a good investment for us. I want other children to have that opportunity. We’ve been blessed with medically trained people in our family and a business that thrives. We have resources. Not everybody has that. The logic of good stewardship is to share blessings so others will have opportunities, and that seems to fit this situation,” said Henderson.

Because of Mya, two of Henderson’s nieces are occupational therapist. They both have a connection to Radford and Vesna Costello through training and internships.

“Helping support that program has [produced] two more people who will pay it forward,” shared Henderson.

Henderson says that it has been exciting to watch Radford expand over the years and offer programs like nursing and law enforcement along with other college programs like business and the sciences.

“It’s nice to know that young people in our community have access to a good education right here. They don’t have to go out-of-state. The way [Radford] has grown, the opportunities that are here…I have been really impressed that that’s where I graduated,” said Henderson.

“I hope that other people will pay attention to how Radford has grown, find special interests to their lives, to their needs, to the needs of their communities and just like we have, support with the amount that they can because it all helps. It doesn’t have to be a million-dollar donation. It’s a little bit at a time over a period of time. As varied as Radford has become, there’s got to be an interest in there that you can support,” encourages Henderson.

Radford University offers a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree.  The program is highly competitive and admits one student cohort to the Radford main campus and Roanoke site each fall. Radford's MOT program is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy. Learn more about MOT and how you can support the Waldron College of Health and Human Services.