Taylor Meadows, left, and Morgan MeadowsTaylor Meadows, left, and Morgan Meadows

Twin Therapy

Morgan sisters hugging as young children.

In the Foundations Lab of the occupational therapy program, Morgan Meadows was assigned to do a detailed presentation analyzing another person engaged in a simple, workaday activity.

“She was supposed to look at the environment, whether the activity was social or nonsocial, and explain all of the factors involved in the activity,” recalls her instructor, Amanda Buono,  WC ’00. “She had a series of photos as part of this presentation, and when I saw them, I thought I was looking at her, that she had just taken a bunch of selfies. I said, ‘You weren’t supposed to analyze yourself; you were supposed to observe another person.’ She explained that it was another person – it was her sister, who was reading a book, which was a perfectly legitimate subject for her study.”

Morgan and her sister, Taylor, are identical twins. Every day they cause double takes in the health sciences buildings, where Morgan is on track for a master’s degree in occupational therapy and Taylor is enrolled in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. The 22-year-olds share the same pert features, sunny smile and honey-blond highlights in their hair.

“When one of us faces a challenge, the other will say ‘You got this!'”

“People I don’t know will stop and wave at me, thinking I am my sister,” Morgan says. “I’ve decided it’s just easier for me to wave back and keep going. I wouldn’t want them to think my sister was being rude by snubbing them.” Of course, strangers wave at Taylor, too. The women are long accustomed to mistaken-identity mix-ups and find most of them comedic – “a small price to pay for having a built-in best friend,” they both say in unison.

“As far as pranks go, in seventh grade, we swapped places at school, but we got caught at it,” Taylor says. “The fact is, we look so much alike that we don’t really have to try to confuse people.”

They contend that they do not experience telepathy – “that’s a myth,” Taylor says with a laugh. However, this iteration of sisterhood proves especially powerful. They tend to finish each other’s sentences, echo each other in conversation and giggle in the same moments, which creates an uncanny, slightly surreal impression. “We often have the same song stuck in our head for some reason,” she says, “and if one of us cries, the other will automatically start crying. During the rare times when we’re apart, we text like crazy and talk on the phone. We are definitely linked as soulmates. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have a twin.”

They both were cheerleaders, wearing the same uniform in the same size, and volunteers for The Special Olympics and The Children’s Miracle Network. Still, there are subtle differences that help old friends tell them apart. Both are outgoing, chatty and cheerful, but Morgan is a bit more introspective. “Taylor is the driver while I navigate and give directions,” Morgan says, “and I’m a cat person while Taylor is more of a dog person. We used to dress alike, but as we got older we developed different tastes in clothes. Her style is more flowy and frilly while mine is more sleek.”

They both love to read, but Taylor, who is 14 minutes older, is a big Harry Potter fan. Morgan prefers The Hunger Games. For exercise, Morgan enjoys swimming but hates jogging. Taylor is a track athlete.

Ashni Kadakia has hand examined by Taylor Morgan, right.
Taylor Meadows works with classmate Ashni Kadakia during a physical therapy lab. Taylor is enrolled in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Morgan Meadows tests the range of motion of her classmate Haley Fain's wrist during an occupational therapy lab. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Morgan Meadows tests the range of motion of her classmate Haley Fain’s wrist during an occupational therapy lab. Morgan is pursuing her masters of occupational therapy. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The Meadows sisters come from a clan that comprises four sets of twins. For openers, the grandfather on their mother’s side and grandmother on their father’s side each had twin siblings.  “Our mother prayed for twins but didn’t realize she was having them until she was pretty far into her pregnancy,” Taylor says. “When she found out, she freaked out and went out to buy duplicates of everything they had already bought.”

Their father, Howard, works in the insurance industry, and their mother, Angie, is a teacher where they grew up in Blackshear, Georgia. “Our parents were very careful not to favor one of us over the other,” Taylor says, “and they instilled these values in us that we need to get along and shouldn’t squabble. Some twins are very competitive with each other, but we aren’t. When one of us faces a challenge, the other will say, ‘You got this!’ We try to be cheerleaders for each other’s confidence and success.”

Meadows sisters in matching blue and white cheerleading outfits for PCHS.
The Meadows sisters have spent most of their lives side by side, from childhood photoshoots to cheering on the sidelines together at Pierce County High School.

In high school, Morgan shadowed an occupational therapist in a pediatric ward. “I could see this progress being made in front of my eyes, and I thought, ‘Aha! This is what I want to do!’”

Adds Taylor, “I had a similar experience shadowing a physical therapist. It just felt right to me.”

These fields, they say, can be intertwined, but “like us, are just a little bit different.”

“PTs are more concerned with very specific movements,” Taylor says. “As a PT, for example, I would take someone who has just had hip replacement surgery and teach them how to move that leg.”

Morgan says, “And OT requires a little more psychology. You’re helping people resume their daily activities that are meaningful to them, whether it’s tying a shoe, writing your name or properly getting into and out of bed.”

Buono says Morgan is a natural caregiver. “She’s a gentle spirit with a light touch – she’s going to make an excellent OT.”

Morgan sisters as very young girls.Both women completed their undergraduate work at Georgia Southern, where they majored in exercise science and pledged Phi Mu sorority together. “We’ve both always been drawn to biology, anatomy and the sciences,” Morgan says, “and we both are very people-oriented. We want to actively help others rather than getting a job that requires us to sit still in a desk all day.”

They wanted to stay together for their graduate studies, but did not count on that possibility because both fields are highly competitive. “When we first toured Brenau, saw the facilities and met the faculty, we knew immediately that this is where we wanted to belong,” Taylor says. “So we were so excited when we both got accepted in the same year.”

Acclaimed programs

Brenau established its OT school 21 years ago, and its graduate program now is nationally ranked in the top 20 percent  of 164 programs in the nation. “We have students from all over the country seeking us out,” says associate professor Wendy Holmes, who is director of the occupational therapy school. “We had 450 applicants for 32 slots in our day program at the Gainesville campus, and 300 applicants for 32 slots in Norcross. The typical grade point average of our students is 3.5, which gives you an idea of the caliber of student we attract.”

The Brenau OT program was one of the first in North America to make the transition from a bachelor’s degree to a Master of Science as the basic degree required for a Brenau degree in OT – well before the accreditation and professional organizations required it, which, Holmes says, “was very forward-thinking and speaks to the excellence of the program.” The university now offers an occupational therapy doctorate as well.

The Department of Physical Therapy, established in 2013, also is regarded as one of the most rigorous and acclaimed programs in the nation. “We had more than 800 applicants last year and chose only 40 students,” says founding Chair Kathye Light.

Brenau is one of only two institutions in Georgia that have both a master’s degree program in occupational therapy and a doctorate in physical therapy. The other is Augusta University. The Meadows sisters considered both schools, but ultimately chose Brenau in part because of its helpful, all-star faculty. Several of the instructors have nationally recognized, authoritative work in prestigious journals and textbooks, including Holmes and Light, as well as retired founding director Barbara Schell and professors Robin Underwood and Helene Smith-Gabai.

“It’s so cool to open a book and see your professor’s name on it,” Morgan says. “You know you’re getting taught directly by some of the best professors in the field. And these professors really work with you and want you to succeed. That is so important.”

For example, with her interest in working with children, Morgan plunged right in during her first semester, taking classes in the pediatric aspects of occupational therapy from Dr. Laura Carpenter, whose clinical experience has primarily been in the outpatient pediatric setting with additional experience working in a school system practice. Smith-Gabai, Taylor’s neuroscience professor, literally wrote the book on the subject – the 2007 text Occupational Therapy in Acute Care.

Meadows, left and Kadakia right at a laptop in PT lab.
Taylor Meadows researches a secondary way to test a muscle’s strength with classmate Ashni Kadakia, from Sanford, Florida during a physical therapy lab.
Morgan Meadows and Haley Fain study for their occupational therapy final exams for the semester. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Morgan Meadows studies for final exams with Haley Fain, from Helen, Georgia who is also pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Both the OT and PT programs emphasize hands-on learning experiences, which the twins relish. “Every semester, the students do fieldwork in hospitals, mental health clinics, pediatric and geriatric wards and other settings,” Holmes says.

Hands-on experience

Sometimes, the students do not even have to leave the campus to lend a helping hand. The Center for Productive Living is housed within the School of Occupational Therapy. It offers services to the community while at the same time providing educational opportunities for students such as Morgan. Its goal is to help children and adults, who may lack insurance or other means, to engage in activities that dismantle barriers to social participation and occupational justice. “It’s a really valuable and notable aspect of our program because it exposes students to so many challenges that other people face,” Holmes says, “while bettering our community.”

Likewise, Brenau’s PT department department offers the Early Mobility program, which enables students to spend time in hospitals, assisting patients and nurses.

“Just walking into the hospital makes me feel so excited about the future.”

“We help take vitals and take patients on walks down the hall, which really helps you prepare for the clinicals later,” Taylor says. “Augusta doesn’t have that. Most programs just sort of throw you into the clinicals without much preparation, but this serves as a gateway to developing the basic interpersonal skills you need as a PT and getting you comfortable with that role. It’s one of my favorite activities in the program. Just walking into the hospital makes me feel so excited about the future.”

Jim Lewis, center, explains different aspects of the new anatomy lab at the Brenau Downtown Center during an open house for the new facility hosted by the Department of Physical Therapy.
Jim Lewis, center, explains different aspects of the new anatomy lab at the Brenau Downtown Center during an open house for the new facility hosted by the Department of Physical Therapy.

When Brenau established its physical therapy doctorate, it developed in the Downtown Center facility a modern, thoroughly equipped human anatomy laboratory with 10 work areas, which compares well with many similar labs in prestigious medical schools. It is in that lab at one of the work stations that Taylor has spent considerable time during her first two semesters as a doctoral degree candidate. In gross anatomy studies she and five of her fellow students, supervised by a professor, worked with cadavers much the way any other first-year medical student would – a dissection process that she confesses she found to be a little intimidating at first. The students make incisions, separate muscles and learn as much as possible about how different body components work and interact. The lab work provided her with a real visual picture of the human body that she says is sometimes quite different from pictures in textbooks.

Likewise, her immediate immersion in the “Early Mobility” program, working directly with patients, also knocked her out of her comfort zone. “It has been a great experience that has strengthened my interpersonal skills, professional skills and my critical thinking skills,” Taylor says. “[It] also enhances the material we learn in class and gets us out of the classroom for a while….  My professors and advisors have been so knowledgeable and supportive throughout these past two semesters here at Brenau. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for the rest of the three years. All of this real-world experience will help us get a job after we graduate.”

Bright futures

Taylor Meadows, left, and Morgan Meadows
Taylor Meadows, left, and Morgan Meadows

What’s next after Brenau for these close-knit sisters? After they graduate, they intend to try out for The Amazing Race. “We totally understand each other and have each other’s back – who better to team up with?” Taylor says. Then they want to rack up as much work experience as possible in their fields. “We’d like to stay together in the South, but we’re open to moving wherever the best jobs are.”

Buono, who pursued her OT master’s degree at Brenau while her sister was here in nursing school, can relate to the unusual dynamic of the twins.

“My sister and I really helped each other broaden our perspectives in our fields,” she says. “What I envision for Morgan and Taylor is that they help grow each other’s vision and impact. Having another healthcare-oriented resource in your family is a distinct advantage for both of them.”

The twins’ ultimate goal, of course, is to establish a joint practice. “Maybe we could add a speech therapist, too, and other practitioners to offer really comprehensive care to whoever needs help for whatever reason,” Morgan says. “I think Meadows & Meadows has a nice ring to it.”

 

Candice Dyer, WC ’92, is a freelance writer living in Cleveland, Georgia.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Twin Therapy”
  1. Jeff Meadows says:

    Their aunt Rita and I are so proud of our nieces!

  2. Tammy Madray says:

    Great article about two great young ladies. So happy to see them doing so well, but always knew they would. They both have bright futures ahead of them. I must say I think their Mom and Dad did a great job guiding them into adulthood!!

  3. Robert M. Williams, Jr. says:

    These sweet, beautiful young ladies make everyone in their hometown very proud!

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