Patients who come to Stacey Williams often start at the bottom of a mountain with a tough climb ahead of them. Thanks to her experienced, helping hands, though, they’re not alone in that journey.
The Jessup resident has spent her entire 28-year career working as a physical therapist for Allied Services in Scranton, with much of that time dedicated to working with patients who have had strokes, spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions.
“My favorite part of my job is helping people recover from these catastrophic injuries and getting them back to things they loved to do,” she said, whether that’s in the same way as before or adapting to a new way.
Williams decided this was the career for her as a teenager growing up in Archbald, when she worked as a candy striper at the former Mercy Hospital. She volunteered in the physical therapy department, and with her sports background — she played basketball and threw shotput and discus for Valley View High School — she envisioned a career working with athletes.
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in health science and a master’s degree in physical therapy from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (now the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia) before earning her doctorate in physical therapy from University of Scranton.
During college, Williams had an instructor whose strength was with neurological diagnosis, and her own interest shifted away from treating sports injuries.
“I just really took a liking and had a better understanding of the neurological diagnoses as opposed to the orthopedic injuries. … They just didn’t seem as exciting as the neurological populations,” she said.
After a stint at Allied’s inpatient hospital and working in home health, Williams moved to the outpatient clinic in 1995. She primarily worked in pediatrics at first before transitioning to her current field. Today, she’s also one of the outpatient managers in Allied’s Charles Luger Outpatient Clinic, where her patients’ dedication and determination to get better keep her motivated.
“They continue to show up and work hard,” Williams said.
Williams passes on her decades of knowledge to the next generation of physical therapists as well as an instructor at U of S, where she teaches a rehabilitation spinal cord class. She started helping at her alma mater more than 20 years ago, assisting another instructor with labs as students came to Allied for real-world experience. When that teacher went on maternity leave, Williams said, she stepped up to help and is now one of the course’s co-instructors.
“I give them a lot of examples on patients, a lot of stories, a lot of real-life experience rather than just your basic textbook,” she said.
Teaching during the pandemic posed lots of challenges, but Williams did what she could to make sure the students still got a quality education. When students couldn’t get as much hands-on work as they normally would have, Williams filmed work with a patient to share with the class over Zoom and was able to have one in-patient lab with her class.
“My worry was, ‘Are they going to get it? Are they going to understand this stuff?’” she said. “And they did. Everybody adapted.”
Teaching “kind of gets my brain moving a little bit” as well, Williams said, as it can remind her of things she might not have thought about in a while that she could bring back into her own practice. And she’s even gone on to hire a few of her former students.
Having that medical background also helped her in a recent personal struggle: battling breast cancer. After a routine mammogram turned up an abnormality, Williams learned in March 2020 that she had ductal carcinoma in situ, aka DCIS, a non-invasive cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock since no one in her family ever had breast cancer, and she said it encouraged some of her friends to go get mammograms.
“I was very lucky that the radiologist picked up on it,” Williams said. “It was very, very small.”
Having known others who fought cancer, Williams said she “knew that there could be a good outcome.”
“My surgeon was absolutely positive that they would get it all,” she said.
Williams, who underwent two lumpectomies and six weeks of radiation, was a curious patient, eager to see what her fellow medical professionals were doing during her procedures and asking lots of questions. She praised the treatment she received, which happened locally, and the support she got at Allied. And after finishing radiation in August, Williams felt that “big sense of relief” upon learning her cancer was gone.
It allowed her, too, to continue her side career as a PIAA girls basketball referee, which she has done for 26 years. Drawn to basketball as a kid because of the competitiveness and team atmosphere, Williams played in college as well and today referees in the local, Lehigh Valley and Schuylkill leagues. She even handled a state final in Hershey in 2017.
Williams enjoys refereeing as a way to stay involved in the game, since coaching would be tough to manage with her schedule. It gives her something to do during the winter, she said, and keeps her young, even if fans can be tough on the refs.
“I think I’ve grown over the years,” Williams said. “I think I’ve grown a tough skin, and you learn how to do deal with (fans).”
She remains active in sports, too, although this time it’s on the road rather than the court. Williams has done loads of half-marathons — she particularly enjoys running in Philadelphia, her old college stomping grounds — and has completed the Steamtown Marathon twice. She also joined the Allied Services group that ran the New York City Marathon with Ryan’s Run, raising money for kids and adults with disabilities in the process.
People cheered along almost the whole route, which traverses New York’s five boroughs and crosses iconic bridges.
“I did it a second time just because (I wanted) to take it all in. … It was a party from start to finish,” Williams said.
And it’s in moments like those, and in the training that precedes them, that thoughts of her own patients — people who continue to push themselves no matter the challenge — encourage her not to give up, either.
“I have this mantra, ‘keep moving forward,’” Williams said. “I keep thinking of my patients and my patients that can’t walk that far. … That’s always been something that kind of inspired me during my marathon running.”
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest