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2020 Health Care Champions Therapist: Amy Clift

Ochsner Health

Posted online

In a year that’s been filled with challenges in the health care industry, Amy Clift is taking on a new one by leaving the only employer she’s had in two decades of service as a speech-language pathologist.

After 20 years at Mercy Clinic Ear, Nose and Throat, Clift exited the Ozarks this summer to continue her career in speech language pathology. She now works in New Orleans for Ochsner Health. No matter her place of employment, Clift says she’s motivated and inspired by her co-workers and the patients she helps.

“It is pivotal and moving that I am able to aid in the form of rehabilitation to restore voice, communication skills and ability to eat, to so many people in our community,” she says. “These patients have become friends and family to me, which always reminds me to think of every patient as a family member.”

During her career in Springfield, Clift worked alongside surgeons treating patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Part of that work involves helping them regain their voice, which can be severely impacted by laryngeal cancer. Her training allows her to place and maintain a voice prosthesis to restore speech, as well as rehabilitate a patient’s ability to resume eating.

Singers, public speakers and senior citizens are among those Clift works with who may have altered voice issues.

“It is the most incredible moment when a patient is able to use his ‘new’ voice to tell a family member that he loves them, and I am privileged enough to be present and help in this process,” she says. “Unfortunately, not all swallows can be fully rehabilitated, or sometimes not at all. Taking that journey with the patients and aiding in any way is often life changing.”

Clift’s schooling at Missouri State University, where she received a master’s degree in speech language pathology in 2000, set up the foundation for her lengthy health care career. A bachelor’s degree in speech language pathology and audiology preceded that in 1998.

Clift says COVID-19 has deeply impacted her work environment, as she and colleagues have continued with such procedures as high-risk endoscopy to visualize lesions and airways in efforts to determine the best plans for patient care. She’s also participated in webinars with other speech-language pathologists and infectious disease professionals across the country to determine the safest practices for patients, while limiting exposure risks.

“For those working in close proximity to oral and nasal cavities and exposed to the respiratory system, significant precautions had to be taken with full personal protective equipment,” she says. “Sadly, cancer does not stop due to a pandemic.”

Amid the pandemic, Clift says she outlined plans of care for laryngectomy patients, who have had their larynx removed due to cancer and breathe through a stoma at their neck rather than the mouth and nose.

“This is an underserved and misunderstood portion of our population, especially at this time,” she says. “These incredible people needed direction in [the] safest ways to leave their home while protecting their airway and protecting others around them.

“I believe patients, the medical community and all of us have become more resilient in the face of adversity through this pandemic.”

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