In good hands

Meet three members of the Milliken team and learn why they specialize in hand therapy

by Michele Berhorst • November 29, 2022

Tim Pemberton, MSOT, OTR/L, uses a goniometer to assess a patient’s range of motion in his stiff hand.

Emily Pitassi, MSOT, OTR/L, CHT
Therapist Specialist

“I enjoy getting to know each of my patients and feel lucky to work in a setting that allows me to learn so much about their occupations and unique interests,” says Pitassi, the lead therapist at Milliken’s Chesterfield, Mo., location.
A St. Louis native, Pitassi earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Missouri in 2004 and her master’s degree in occupational therapy from Washington University in 2007. As a first-year student, one of her Level I Fieldwork placements was at Milliken. “I learned so much about upper extremity conditions and surgeries and how hand therapy can have a tremendous impact on a person’s level of function. Following that experience, I knew I wanted to return to Milliken for Level II Fieldwork and pursue a career in hand and upper extremity therapy.”

Pitassi has worked at Milliken for 15 years and says she often thinks about her own visits to health-care providers while she is treating patients at Milliken. “I think about the aspects of care that put me at ease, as well as those that may have been stressful for me. I reflect on those experiences often and do everything I can to ensure a positive therapy experience for the patients that come to Milliken."

That awareness guides Pitassi’s approach when working with patients who are hesitant to move their hand or arm during their first visit. “I will slow the visit pace down, ensure that they feel safe and comfortable, and spend extra time educating them about the source of their pain and what they can do to decrease it,” Pitassi shares. “It’s incredibly rewarding to watch these patients gain confidence and begin to move their hand and eventually incorporate it into activities that are safe for them to perform.”

Outside of work, Pitassi enjoys working out, walking her dog, attending her children’s sporting events, creating photo albums, and spending time with her husband and friends. These are the same types of activities she wants her patients to return to after therapy. “I have discussions with my patients about their goals and what they want or need to do. These conversations not only guide my treatment plan, but also teach me about professions and activities that I wouldn't have the opportunity to learn about otherwise.”

What Pitassi enjoys most about working at Milliken is the team of therapists, physicians and support staff around her. “Everyone is incredibly knowledgeable, compassionate and committed to providing the same positive experiences for our patients as I am,” Pitassi says.

Tim Pemberton, MSOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

“I initially became interested in hand therapy while shadowing a hand therapist in Seattle before starting occupational therapy school. It was my first exposure to orthosis fabrication, which is now one of my favorite things about being a hand therapist,” says Pemberton, an occupational therapist at Milliken’s Center for Advanced Medicine location in St. Louis.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in geography in 2004 from the University of Washington Bothell and his master’s degree in occupational therapy in 2017 from Washington University in St. Louis. He originally joined the Milliken team in 2018 as a PRN occupational therapist and transitioned to a full-time position in 2021. One day a week, he works at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he fabricates orthoses and provides occupational therapy services to the acute care population.

Pemberton’s love of hand therapy stems from his interest in complex anatomy and the challenge of dealing with the many different structures of the hand. Working closely with plastic and orthopedic surgeons throughout the course of the patient's treatment gives Pemberton the opportunity to learn and advance his skills.

“I enjoy treating traumatic injuries. Examples include fractures of the hand and wrist, tendon lacerations and blast injuries from fireworks. I am motivated by seeing my patients recover and return to meaningful activities. It's a great feeling to know that I played a small role in helping an individual be able to return to doing something they love,” he shares.

Outside of work, Pemberton’s occupations include staying active. “I love going on walks with my wife and our dog. I also enjoy many different types of exercise, but recently I have been really into jumping rope. I have commuted to work by bicycle every day for nearly 20 years.”

Teamwork is what Pemberton enjoys most about working at Milliken. “I work with an incredible team of therapists who consistently go above and beyond to help one another out and make the workday fun. I feel truly fortunate to work with such a knowledgeable, caring group of people,” he says.

Luu Wong, MSOT, OTR/L, CHT
Therapist Specialist

“I always knew that I wanted to get into health care. I enjoy taking care of others, so it was natural to get into a service career from a medical end,” says Wong, a therapist specialist at Milliken’s Chesterfield, Mo., location. “During my training, I had an opportunity to observe a hand therapist, and I loved what I saw. So it was a career goal to become a hand therapist in a hand clinic.”

Wong achieved that goal and joined the Milliken team in 2019 as a therapist specialist. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy in 1996 from Saint Louis University and became a certified hand therapist in 2005.

“I love to rehab individuals recovering from surgeries for fractures, tendon lacerations and conditions such as Dupuytren’s contracture. The most important part of my role as a hand therapist is to be an educator,” Wong says. “I explain in simple terms what is going on in your hand, how the injury occurred and what the surgery did to repair it, then help my patients on their rehabilitation journey.”

Originally from Vietnam, Wong came to St. Louis as a child to live with her older brothers who raised her. She is bilingual and can help patients and their families who speak Vietnamese and may have limited English proficiency.

“I enjoy taking care of people so they return to their roles, which means taking care of themselves and others. I like being part of the equation to help others get back to life. It is the kind of care that I would want for myself and my family,” shares Wong, whose occupations focus on her family. She keeps busy by attending and volunteering at her daughter’s sporting and club events and enjoys being active outdoors with her family and their dog.

Wong wanted to work at Washington University for its long-standing reputation for being a leader in education, training and research. She feels having access to top doctors and health-care professionals translates into the best care for her patients.

“Milliken has a great commitment to service to the St. Louis community and surrounding areas. I enjoy working so closely with other hand therapists. It is amazing what we can do with our knowledge and experience in treating individuals with complex injuries. My team works with you to get you back to your life,” says Wong.

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