Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Gabby Robberds was just two when she passed away in 2010 and is remembered for her smile and her gentle, courageous spirit.
Her legacy lives on in the Gabby Robberds Scholarship, created by her family to help other children with cerebral palsy – by supporting the therapists who make a difference in their lives.
This year’s recipients of the Gabby Robberds Scholarship are Bachelor of Physiotherapy student Harriet Drane and Master of Occupational Therapy student Rachael Mitterfellner, from the University of Canberra’s (UC) Faculty of Health.
“Physiotherapy and occupational therapy both have a huge impact on kids with cerebral palsy, and can improve their quality of life so much,” says Craig Robberds, Gabby’s father. “Gabby loved her therapy sessions.”
Ms Drane and Ms Mitterfellner impressed the selection committee with their empathy and enthusiasm for working with children with disabilities, as well as their academic prowess. They each received $1,500 and a final placement with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), as part of the scholarship.
Both Ms Mitterfellner and Ms Drane have very personal connections to their chosen vocations.
Ms Mitterfellner completed a Bachelor of Medical Science before she embarked on a Master of Occupational Therapy – but the seeds of her vocation were sown decades earlier.
“My twin brother and I were premature babies, born at 29 weeks gestation,” Ms Mitterfellner says. “We got a lot of help from an early intervention team, receiving physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.”
As such, she’s a big believer in the benefits of early intervention.
“There’s a certain degree of plasticity in development, and early intervention can help an individual reach more of their potential.”
Ms Drane found her interest in physiotherapy sparked after undergoing sessions for a series of knee injuries. “The more I learned, the more fascinated I became,” she says.
She also has lived experience of disability, experiencing hearing loss that started when she was four, culminating in extensive rehabilitation, and cochlear implant surgery a few years ago.
Such experiences have contributed significantly to her perspective on disability.
“Each person, despite their unique challenges, is also uniquely able,” Ms Drane says.
“I love the creativity and spontaneity that you get working with children. Every child is different – finding a way to integrate that into therapy is very exciting.”