Sister Francine Kosednar, SDS felt drawn to occupational therapy by the connection she saw between artistry and her healing profession. At times, she even designed her own hand splints and special devices for patients.
Sr. Francine earned her degree in occupational therapy at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. In the decades that followed, she had a number of firsts and was part of the profound evolution in health care in more than 45 years ministering in Wausau, Wis.
In 1963, Sister Francine became the first director of the Occupational Therapy (OT) Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau. After St. Mary’s and Memorial Hospitals merged in 1979 to become Wausau Hospital she was instrumental in founding and directing the NeuroDevelopmental Clinic that focused on therapy for pediatric patients.
Sister Francine holds onto inspiring memories of her patients’ courage. Some faced challenges from accidents and workplace injuries, others due to cancer, spinal injuries, arthritis, and conditions diagnosed soon after birth.
One such patient was Vicky and Gary Adamski’s first child Tina Marie, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after her premature birth. By that time, the former St. Mary’s Hospital was known as Aspirus Wausau Hospital. In a 2017 story for The Compass published by the Diocese of Green Bay, Vicky recalled, “Sister Francine helped us through a new journey in life. We took Tina to therapy with her for 16 years, hardly missing a week. She inspired us to understand what a special child Tina was.”
Sr. Francine says she forged deep ties with her patients, as part of a medical team dedicated to improve quality of life. “Many patients were heroes to me because of their courage and determination to return to their families and to work. I was continually amazed at the persons in oncology and palliative care because they were so bright and cheerful. They would express deep gratitude and felt blessed because they had another day,” she said
“After we started a stroke rehabilitation program, we saw firsthand what pool therapy could do for the patients. We saw adults and children able to be weight-bearing in the water. It was fascinating to be part of all these new therapies and we were grateful to be part of these advances,” Sr. Francine recalls.
Her enthusiasm continued after she shifted her role to that of patient advocate as part of the medical team and staff at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. Sister Francine served as a customer service analyst for the Communications and Marketing Department. It was a good fit for this Salvatorian Sister who describes herself as very much a people person.
“I would visit new patients and asked them how we could improve our service to them and their families. They were appreciative that someone asked their opinion. If they had a concern, we followed through before they left the hospital. Then when they returned home, we followed up with a telephone survey to be sure we met their needs and expectations.”
As a counterpoint to her primary ministry, Sr. Francine would come home for the day, don a big apron and work on her woodcarving. She fashioned items such as ornament and angels from bass and butternut woods. Today, Sister Francine is retired from her lifelong ministry in the health care, but her longtime avocation of wood carving continues.