Gabby Robberds’ legacy: scholarship created by a family’s love

Gabby Robberds is remembered for her smile and her gentle, courageous spirit.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Gabby was just two when she passed away in 2010.

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 winners 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 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,” said 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.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to engage with students who are enthusiastic, eager and at the start of their careers,” said Shilo Preston-Stanley, CPA ACT Services Manager. “We can watch their growth – the increase in confidence and their ability to help people with varying levels of disability. You see them gain satisfaction for making a personal difference, which is very rewarding.”

Thomas Bevitt, Occupational Therapy Professional Practice Convener and Lecturer at the University said that placements provide the opportunity to turn knowledge into practice and work-ready skills.

“The placement will help Rachael and Harriet to develop and refine the clinical and speciality skills

that place the child, their family and community first,” said Mr Bevitt. “It also highlights to our students the importance of everyone working together to create a better quality of life for all.”

Ms Mitterfellner and Ms Drane both 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 said. “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 Mitterfellner said.

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 said.

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 said.

“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.”

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