Marshmallow Shooter Project Benefits Participants In More Ways Than One

Jim Hope calls Gerrie Uy-Eichhorn “picky,” then laughs. Uy-Eichhorn OTR/L, BCN, retorts with “I’m bossy.” She then tells him he likes it when she’s bossy. “It makes you use your arm better,” she said, adding, “For someone who could not speak after a stroke, he can definitely articulate ‘picky’ very clearly.”

The good-natured kidding is part of Hope’s rehabilitation therapy at Herrin Hospital. Last fall Uy-Eichhorn developed an occupational therapy in which stroke patients cut plastic pvc pipe and make “shooters,” which Uy-Eichhorn then takes home and paints.

Uy-Eichhorn said the shooters are used by placing a mini-marshmallow on the blowing piece located on the top. The user then aims and blows. “If you blow hard enough, the marshmallow will come out the other end,” she said. She added, due to chocking hazards she does not recommend the shooters for certain populations, such as children. “Users must be able to remember not to take a deep breath while the mouth is over the blowing piece.”

The shooters are sold for $5 each and the proceeds benefit stroke survivors. “The shooters have been popular so far as Easter and Christmas presents. “We’ve had great success,” said Uy-Eichhorn.

Uy-Eichhorn said the tools used for the therapy requires the use of two hands and participants use all their motor skills. Depending on their abilities or limitations, they are provided either with a picture or a completed shooter as a pattern. The remaining steps require planning as they measure the sizes and number of pipes needed, cut and assemble pipe fittings to the pipes. Two cutters are used for the exercise - a device which must be hand turned and one that is operated by squeezing. The amount of movement, control and cognition help determine which cutter is most appropriate.

Hope, of Marion, suffered a stroke in February, which left his left side paralyzed and affected his speech. When he first came to Rehab Unlimited-Herrin for outpatient speech, physical and occupational therapies, he was using a walker and he couldn’t raise his arm, use his hand or speak at all. Now, he walks on his own with a cane, can move his arm, opens and closes his hand and articulates words. He, his wife, Helen “Uline” and Uy-Eichhorn all agree he has “come a long way.”

Hope was employed for over 30 years as an auto body man at E.N. Baker in Marion. His wife said he has spent his entire life working with his hands. She said following his stroke, her husband couldn’t use his hands at all.

Mrs. Hope said her husband was an inpatient in the Acute Rehabilitation Center for five weeks. “They have done so much for him here. They are all wonderful,” she said, referring to both the inpatient and outpatient therapies.

Uy-Eichhorn said those in the marshmallow shooter therapy use their, cognitive, sensory and social skills. “Everyone has fun, experiences a sense of achievement at having accomplished something and feel good that they are helping towards a good cause,” she said.

She said one of her patients enjoyed the activity so much he requested to do more over the weekend as part of his home exercise program. He was given pre-cut pipes, plus fittings.

“The following visit, he proudly brought the completed shooters to therapy,” said Uy-Eichhorn.

Money raised from shooter sales goes to purchase assistive devices for stroke survivors. Uy-Eichhorn said many of the things they need at home are not covered by Medicare or insurance - such as shower chairs, rocker knives, bath mitts, or reachers, items which make survivors more independent and safe during their daily self-care routine.

Uy-Eichhorn said the marshmallow shooter therapy has been a lot of fun and the staff at the facility hope to hold a fundraiser this fall - possibly one which will involve a “shooting contest” where the shooter can take aim at the therapist of his/her choice.

Those wishing to purchase a marshmallow shooter should call Gerrie Uy-Eichhorn at 618-942-2171, extension 35433.