COPING with COVID — Practicing hands-off physical therapy during quarantine

Doug and Stephanie Levine with their children (L-R) Sydney, Jordyn and Noah.

By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News

The shelter-in-place orders are now extended through May 8 in Austin and Travis County and that continues to affect each local household, many with working parents and school children. The Levine family is no exception and they share their story this week.

Doug Levine, a pediatric physical therapist, lives in Steiner Ranch with his wife Stephanie and their three children: Sydney, 19, Noah, 17, and  Jordyn 11.

Doug owns his own business, Growing Places Therapy Services, which offers in-home physical, occupational and speech therapy to children with developmental disabilities, ages zero to 21.

Normally Doug works in local schools two days a week and in clients’ homes the other three. Instead, he has been practicing telemedicine from his home since spring break rather than seeing patients in person. 

In 23 years as a practicing PT, Doug has never before experienced working under these conditions. 

“It’s definitely challenging, interspersing telemedicine visits and Zoom calls… and trying to attend to (clients’) needs and their concerns and any anxieties they have about what’s going on,” he explained.

There have been unexpected and sometimes funny consequences to attempting to treat children remotely — “The first visit that I did was a 12-month-old and she hit the computer and disconnected us twice” — but Doug has found his clients to be overwhelmingly understanding.

“They’ve all been great. It’s amazing,” he said. “I mean, pretty much everybody that I’ve come across so far in terms of my clients, they’ve all been super flexible and they’re just kinda like, yeah, we’ll roll with it… We’ll figure it out.”

Doug is just grateful to be able to continue to keep his team of 13 therapists employed — he’s not yet had to lay off anyone — and his customers are happy. 

“This whole thing is bigger than us and so I’m trying to keep that perspective and trying to offer something to the families,” he said. “But also understanding that my employees need an income, and they have bills to pay.”

Stephanie, also a physical therapist, works with children ages zero to three, has also converted to telemedicine and still works about 30 hours a week.

As for their kids and extended family, they were motivated early to socially distance. Doug’s parents live in Grandview Hills, and his 90-year-old father is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. 

“They’re close, so we can try to help out wherever we can,” said Doug, “but we’re trying to not be near them that much.”

The Levine’s oldest daughter is home from the University of Texas Austin and they also have a house guest, her boyfriend, who’s a student at Ohio State University. He came to visit but then got “stuck” indefinitely. 

“He is able to work remotely so it’s worked out ok and we love having him,” Doug said.  

Having their kids at home has been a blessing despite the harrowing circumstances. 

“There’s people that are dying and there’s people that are getting sick and I’m not trying to minimize that at all… (But) it’s forced us to slow down, and we’ve done a lot of cooking together and family time together. And that’s actually been really nice,” he said.

“Whether it’s been my family or neighbors, when people are out walking — there’s been way more upside than downside,” said Doug, reflecting on changes he’s seen due to the virus. “People have been great and super friendly and respectful. I just hope it continues when all this is over.”

The consequences of COVID-19 will still be many for Four Points, for Texas, for the United States and the world. But for those who still have their health and who observe social distancing and the newer face covering orders — both which drastically slow the spread of the virus — the blessings far outweigh the inconveniences. 

How is COVID-19 affecting you? Do you have an interesting story to share about how the coronavirus pandemic has aff ected you and your family? Please let us know and email