Mari Jo Pesavento, PT, PCS
2005 Top National Winner (Healthcare Professional Category)
Physical Therapist
Advocate Hope Children's Hospital, Oak Brook, IL
“ I am inspired to be part of a process where a child who was unable to walk or raise their arm, suddenly can because of bracing or increased strength. When a child's functional abilities are increased, their lives are forever changed, which gives patient and parent a renewed sense of hope and faith in their own inner strengths. I am inspired by the nature of my patients to keep working and never give up. ”
Mari Jo Pesavento, PT, PCS
It’s no coincidence that Mari Jo Pesavento does her life’s work at a hospital with “Advocate” in its name. As a pediatric physical therapist, she helps children regain mobility and function after injury or illness – and to reach their “maximum potential” at home, at school and in the community despite physical disabilities. There’s something to learn from every child and every situation, Pesavento believes, and always something she can do, try or say to make things better for them. “The look in a child’s eyes when they take that first step or stand on their own is inspirational,” she said.

For her clinical excellence and patient advocacy, Pesavento has received the prestigious Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award – one of only 14 people honored nationwide in 2005. The award is granted annually by Cherokee Uniforms – a leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel – to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others’ lives.

As a Top National Winner in the award’s Non-Physician Healthcare Professional category, Pesavento will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to a 2006 U.S. medical conference of her choice, a membership to her preferred clinical association and a donation of $500 to the nonprofit organization of her choice. All award winners will receive trophies along with a medical wardrobe of Cherokee scrubs and Rockers footwear and will be included in the nationally distributed Cherokee 2006 Inspired Comfort Award calendar.

“Mari Jo Pesavento is a hero to her patients and their families,” said Wendell Mobley, who directs the national award for Cherokee. “She has dedicated her professional life to helping children who struggle with physical limitations or difficulties – and also to helping their caregiver parents, who grapple with their own worries and frustrations. Mari Jo addresses a family’s practical, everyday living needs, but she also gives them something else that’s equally valuable – hope and confidence.”

She was nominated for the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award by her co-worker Lee Hellman. “Mari Jo’s work is a part of her life and is not just a job that takes place in an office from nine to five each day. She exudes a passion and love for her work that is contagious,” Hellman commented. “I state with the greatest of confidence that I am a better therapist because Mari Jo touched my life, and it is my belief that anyone with whom Mari Jo has interacted would have a similar response.”

Pesavento’s patients range from infants to young adults with head trauma, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, hydrocephalus and other serious conditions. She visits them both at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., and in their homes. During the assessment process, “Mary Jo is able to easily engage families,” Hellman said, “despite cultural, physical or socioeconomic differences.”

Educating the family about the child’s medical situation and therapy options is essential. “I am inspired to give my best day in and day out,” Pesavento remarked, “because in the most humble of ways, I realize there are children and families out there who need me to understand the things that they don’t.” Pesavento takes a creative approach to designing treatment plans, noting that “No two patients are exactly alike, so the plan of intervention and rehabilitation and the final outcomes are never the same.”

Some children, for example, need to learn and practice movements to regain mobility in their arms or legs. Others need instruction in using braces, wheelchairs or other special equipment. Caregivers seek advice on how to modify a home to make it more accessible, comfortable and safe. Hellman recalls how Pesavento went above and beyond to assist a family whose toddler had spina bifida and a tracheostomy. When the child was about to be discharged from the hospital, Pesavento quickly located a rentable “kid kart” – which wouldn’t have arrived in time if ordered new – to hold his breathing equipment. She also secured funds to help the parents build a ramp in their home.

As part of her advocacy efforts, Pesavento is active in several family support groups. She also makes presentations about children’s physical therapy needs to local university and community audiences. At Advocate, she participates in the neonatal intensive care therapy group and spinal cord injury group for clinicians. On the hospital floor or through in-service sessions, she enthusiastically shares her knowledge about gait patterns or wheelchair adaptations, for example, with colleagues and physical therapists-in-training.

Pesavento, a member of the Physical Therapy Association, Illinois Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Association and other professional organizations, also enjoys exploring the “intellectually challenging” science of her profession. She stays current with new technologies that could improve results for her patients, and she puts her faith in “evidence-based interventions.” She extensively researched compression garments, for example, before she felt comfortable recommending them for one of her patients. “I am inspired by the nature of my patients to keep working and never give up,” said Pesavento. “The option to do less than my best just doesn’t exist.”

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, more than 3,400healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of nursing professionals and Cherokee representatives evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination in 2005, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurses House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Cherokee donated $1,300 to Nurses House in 2005.
Nominated by: Lee Hellman (Coordinator of Occupational Therapy, Advocate Hope Children's Hospital, Oak Brook, IL)
In today's society, many people work to make money. They go to work in the morning, do their job and leave in the evening. Rarely do I hear people say, "I love my work" or “I can't wait to see my client that is coming in today.” It seems that many people's work is a job to make ends meet. Although Mari Jo Pesavento, a pediatric physical therapist, also goes to work, Mari Jo's work is a part of her life and is not just a job that takes place in an office from nine to five each day. She exudes a passion and love for her work that is contagious. 
Mari Jo truly demonstrates expertise, compassion and dedication in her work at the Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital and privately in children’s homes. The following paragraphs' attempt to describe the constant giving that Mari Jo demonstrates in her work, in the clinic, in the community and in the educational arena.
Mari Jo demonstrates dedication to her clients in her drive, evidence based interventions and in her consistent family education. For example, Mari Jo researched the benefits of compression garments in order to ensure that she was making recommendations appropriate to her client’s needs. Additionally Mari Jo begins educating families the minute she begins evaluation. She explains what she is doing and encourages parents to practice her demonstrations. Mari Jo is able to easily engage families, despite cultural, physical or socioeconomic differences.

Mari Jo is an advocate for her clients as well as for her beliefs. This is evidenced in her involvement in support groups for families who have children with brachial plexus injuries, spina bifida and hydrocephalus, in her involvement in community groups like the Illinois Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Association, the Early Intervention System, Advocate's neonatal intensive care therapy group, Advocate's spinal cord injury group, and in her involvement in national groups like the Physical Therapy Association. Mari Jo somehow juggles the many commitments that are important to her.

Mari Jo demonstrates a dedication to the education of students, peers and the community. On any given day, one could walk into Hope Children's Hospital and witness the mentorship that Mari Jo provides for physical therapists and other hospital personnel. Although her schedule is filled, she always has time to help a therapist or student better understand ribcage mobility, wheelchair adaptations, or gait patterns. Mari Jo also provides in-services for the therapy and nursing staff regarding partial body weight support, developmental interventions in the NICU and brachial plexus injuries. Mari Jo speaks at universities in the Chicago area as well as in the community. The knowledge she shares assists others develop a better understanding of physical therapy.
Finally, Mari Jo demonstrates a strong compassion for her clients that is evidenced in her work. Mari Jo understands the need of families and children with special needs. Although only isolated incidents, the following examples demonstrate Mari Jo's daily practices. Mari Jo spent extra time to make sure that a rental kid kart was in place prior to discharge from the hospital for a toddler that has spina bifida and tracheostomy. This was important because a regular stroller would not hold the equipment the child needed and the specially ordered KidKart would take over a month to arrive.  Mari Jo helped the family find as well as pursued the resources needed to fabricate a ramp to their home. This family was no longer a client that Mari Jo was currently treating. She was always willing to give extra time to ensure that a client receives quality care and appropriate equipment.
It is my opinion Mari Jo is a model to the healthcare community. She is not only an excellent clinician but she truly cares for children, families, students, peers and colleagues. As mentioned previously, Mari Jo has a passion for her work that is rare in today's society. I state with the greatest of confidence that I am a better therapist because Mari Jo has touched my life and it is my belief that anyone with whom Mari Jo has interacted would have a similar response. Mari Jo deserves recognition for the outstanding services that she provides as a physical therapist. It is my pleasure to recommend her as a candidate for the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award.