Missouri State University
Gabe Purdy

Gabe Purdy

Driven to impact lives

Gabe Purdy was stuck in a job-to-job rut. A life-changing event inspired him to make a change.

After high school, Purdy went back and forth between work and college.

One job led to another.

By his early 20s, routine and boredom set in.

“It hit me that the jobs I was working were decent, but they weren’t really meaningful. I wasn’t impacting other people’s lives,” Purdy said. “I went back and thought, ‘What is it that I want to do and how can I make a difference?’”

The answer: Occupational therapy (OT).

Purdy already had experience with OT.

As a teenager, Purdy’s older brother, Noah, suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) stemming from a car crash.

“Through occupational therapy, you get to see the improvements in people. They realize that things are going to be okay. That’s so cool.”

“He was always super active, outgoing,” Purdy said of Noah. “When he had his TBI, he lost all of his inhibitions and it was really hard for him to interact with anyone. He was incontinent for a while.

“In all of my life, the thing that really affected me the most was watching my older brother go through that.”

Over two years, OT services helped Noah regain a normal life.

Purdy recalled the turning point.

“I was his bathroom helper when I was 16. I would walk with him into the bathroom,” Purdy said. “One time, he pushes me out of the way, locks the door and says, ‘You can’t come in.’ I knew right then that he was going to be OK. He got his dignity back.”

What is occupational therapy?

The name can fool you.

“Occupational therapy isn’t about helping people find jobs,” Purdy said, with a chuckle.

When people have a life-altering injury, illness or condition, OTaids their long-term health and well-being.

Through OT, people restore key life skills and do the activities (occupations) that matter to them.

That can be learning a new way to cook, getting dressed without help or shopping for groceries.

The results are independence, confidence and normalcy.

“We’re helping you get back to do those things you want to do, that whatever condition you might have is impeding,” Purdy said. “All those things that are important to you, we want to help you do them.”

Becoming an occupational therapist at MSU

Purdy highlighted three reasons why he pursued his Master of Occupational Therapy degree at Missouri State.

He liked the program’s affordability, research and client-focused recovery methods.

With the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP), Purdy receives the (lower) in-state tuition rate.

“I’m financing myself through school, so it was really helpful to have that extra incentive,” he said. “Anything helps.”

Under the guidance of Dr. Ashlea Cardin, Purdy’s gaining research experience.

“We’ve explored why children with development disabilities aren’t getting the care they need early on, from ages 0-3,” Purdy said. “We’re looking at long-term effects of not getting that care.”

Purdy’s research team could have a chance to showcase their work.

“We’ve worked on it for three semesters, and we started it from scratch. (OT department head Dr. Sapna Chakraborty) wants to publish it, so I’m hoping that works,” he said. “We’re looking at presenting at the American Occupational Therapy Association Conference.”

Missouri State’s OT program also emphasizes occupation-based interventions.

That means designing therapy for what the client wants to achieve.

“We’re going to ask them, ‘What is meaningful to you?’ Then, we take their answer and do a part of it or the whole occupation,” Purdy said. “If you can teach people how to do something they really want to do, that they thought maybe they could never do again, then it motivates them more.”

Getting a glimpse of his future

Purdy wants to become a neurological rehab therapist.

Through his Fieldwork Education, he’ll work with TBI patients in a trauma unit and community re-entry center.

Purdy wants to provide the same services his brother once received.

“OT was instrumental in helping my brother recover and re-enter the community, and it has inspired me to pursue it as a career.”