Where others see limitations, Randi-Morgan Glisson ’19 sees only possibilities. Glisson, an amiable, positive and ambitious 27-year-old occupational therapy assistant (OTA) student, in her second semester at Cabarrus College, was born missing her left arm below the elbow. But she has never let it slow her down. Whether it’s kayaking or painting or braiding her hair, Glisson finds a way, and now she’s using that experience to help others.
A new passion
After high school, Glisson earned a degree in apparel manufacturing management and worked in the fashion industry for six years. But she wasn’t passionate about her work.
It was volunteering at the Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp in Ohio, a camp for children with limb deficiencies and limb differences, where she found her passion. Inspired by the kids she met at camp and her supportive husband of 2 1/2 years, Glisson began exploring a new direction for her life.
“My husband helped me realize it doesn’t matter that I have one arm,” says Glisson. “I can use that to help people and motivate others who are like me.”
Initially, Glisson used her newfound confidence to become an advocate. She’d wear her robotic prosthesis in public as a way to invite questions and advocate for others who are different. Eventually she explored various areas in the medical field, and after shadowing occupational therapists, she found the right fit and the career passion she was seeking.
“OT is all about getting people to or back to doing what’s important to them, whether it’s cooking for their kids, learning to kayak with one arm, going back to work, or performing the tasks of daily life,” says Glisson. “I’ve been finding ways to adapt to do things my whole life, so for me, it’s the perfect field.”
Indeed. Fitted with her first prosthetic arm at the age of nine weeks, Glisson has developed ways to do just about everything. Her husband Peter’s creative welding skills have been especially helpful, and together they’ve developed adaptive equipment to help her with everything from cooking to exercise to kayaking. Her husband even made a hook so she could be a pirate for Halloween.
Glisson brings the same creativity, determination and positive outlook to her education and field work in the OTA program at Cabarrus College, deftly using her experiences to help others.
For instance, in working with stroke patients who’ve lost the use of one side of their body, Glisson is a natural. “I learned to do everything with one arm or a prosthesis, so everything is sort of second nature to me,” she says, noting that her OTA student peers often turn to her for ideas.
She’s also found a special kinship during field work with pediatric patients, who are fascinated by her various prosthetic arms, especially her “Be Bionic” myoelectric arm. The Be Bionic arm has individually articulating digits and a movable wrist that Glisson controls by flexing muscles, which are attached to electrodes in the arm.
The kids, who call her “Robot Girl,” like watching her use the myoelectric arm so much that it motivates them to try the tasks and skills she demonstrates.
The right college
The opportunity to do field work starting in her first semester is part of what drew Glisson to Cabarrus College. “You learn so much actually being in the field,” she says. “You’re not going to have all the scenarios written down in a book.”
Having taken a few classes at a larger university with 200 plus per class, Glisson also liked the small classes at Cabarrus College, the friendly, welcoming environment and the many opportunities that come with a Cabarrus College education.
From events that have allowed her to meet traumatic brain injury patients over lunch to a field trip to Cannon Pharmacy, which actually led to a part-time job she loves, Glisson feels that Cabarrus College is where she’s meant to be. “My peers are so supportive and everyone in the program is wonderful,” she says. “It feels like we’re a family.”
A bright future
Since children at Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp ignited Glisson’s passion for occupational therapy, it’s no surprise that she hopes to work with children after graduation.
“I would love to work at Levine Children’s Hospital,” says Glisson. “I try to always be super positive. I feel like a hospital is not looked at as a positive place to be, but if I can come in and brighten their day and say, ‘I’ve gotten past these things and you can too,’ that’s what I want to do.”
She also wants to get her master’s degree in occupational therapy, and maybe moonlight at the Shriner’s Hospital or the Veterans Administration hospital teaching others how to use protheses. She’s also toyed with the idea of combining her fashion training and her OTA experience to design and create attractive adaptive clothing.
“I want to do so many things,” she says, “but my heart always goes back to helping kids.”
*Randi-Morgan Glisson ’19 is currently a student in our Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Health Studies/Master of Occupational Therapy Program.