On a crisp, sunny autumn day, standing in front of a horse pen outside, Brandi O’Reilly smiles and announces that she’s stubborn.
“But at least I use it for good,” she said. That stubbornness has been directed toward helping hundreds of families with disabled children. She is a physical therapist and the CEO of Dynamic Strides Therapy.
After O’Reilly graduated from Missouri State with a doctor of physical therapy degree, she spent eight years in the public school system. She thought families weren’t getting all the help their children needed. So she decided to start a nonprofit and tackle the issue. It took two years and some tenacity, but she opened Dynamic Strides Therapy in Republic, Missouri, in 2017.
It offers physical, occupational and speech therapies. As the CEO, she oversees the day-to-day operations. Therapists at Dynamic Strides see 200 children a week. There are another 150 on the waiting list. At the clinic, they also have on-site equine and off-site aquatic therapy. These consolidated services
mean families don’t have to drive to separate locations.
“These kids have so many doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments. When they come here, we want them to forget that this is therapy,” O’Reilly said.
ONE FOCUS: HELPING MORE CHILDREN WITH MEDICAID
On this day, inside the sensory gym, it’s obvious this place is meant to feel more like an escape. There are swings, a tipi, rock climbing, a ball pit, a trampoline, slides and more. Between the therapists and children, there are many high-fives, smiles and hugs.
One of O’Reilly’s goals was to increase accessibility for families who could not afford the care or were underinsured. She accepts a much higher ratio of Medicaid patients. Most clinics cap their Medicaid patients at 10%, but 70% of hers have Medicaid. Medicaid pays $40 an hour, but it costs $100 an hour to provide services when you factor in all the costs, she said.
O’Reilly must raise $400,000-$600,000 a year to break even. To generate revenue, she rents out the facility for riding lessons or birthday parties when it’s not in use by patients.
THERAPY CAPTURED HER INTEREST FROM A YOUNG AGE
When O’Reilly was a child, her mother operated a home daycare. One of the children had cerebral palsy, and a physical therapist would come to the house to work with the girl.
“I remember watching and thinking, ‘That is so cool. I want to do that.’ I saw her make strides,” O’Reilly said. O’Reilly enrolled at Missouri State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology in 2005, and a doctor of physical therapy degree in 2008.
“I chose Missouri State because I am from Springfield, it’s a good school and the price point was great,” O’Reilly said. After graduation, she volunteered with Dynamic Strides, which was then a volunteer-based therapeutic riding center. When she had the vision for the nonprofit, she transitioned it to Strides Therapy, a full outpatient therapy facility.
Many current Missouri State students now do their clinicals or internships at Dynamic Strides Therapy.
HER VISION: EMPOWERING CHILDREN THROUGH EQUINES
The equine therapy offered at Dynamic Strides is called hippotherapy — “hippo” is the Greek word for horse. Being on a horse can help children develop skills such as balance, coordination, gait, core strength and confidence.
“If you spend your life in a wheelchair and that’s your visual perspective,” she said, holding her hand down to wheelchair height, “and you get up on one of these horses, it’s so empowering. The bond between horse and child is incredible.” They own 11 horses and have a full-time equine manager. Most of these horses are retired from barrel racing or showing. When these animals arrive, they have to be retrained.
“We have to be sure they won’t bolt when an autistic child screams in their ear. They can’t react,” O’Reilly said. The staff members don’t necessarily teach the children to ride. Instead, they use a horse as a treatment tool. Every child on a horse requires one physical, occupational or speech therapist and two volunteers nearby at all times, so it’s labor-intensive.
O’Reilly would love to expand the program, but she would need more volunteers.
SHE’S NOW DREAMING OF WAYS TO EXPAND IN THE FUTURE
O’Reilly is a Springfield native. She is married to Ryan O’Reilly. They have three children: Clara, Hadley and Finnegan. She was pregnant with her third child when she got the idea for Dynamic Strides: “It came fast and out of nowhere.”
The last piece of her dream is to expand and build a pool on the property. Currently, a local hotel allows O’Reilly’s therapists and patients to use the pool on quieter weekdays. She also wants to build seven more treatment rooms and a space for continuing education.
It’ll be a few years before she starts trying to raise funds for those projects. There’s no exact timeline, but “it’s going to happen,” O’Reilly said — remember her self-professed stubbornness?
“I don’t know when, but I don’t stop. My dream will be finalized.”
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