Jiří Votava
Faculty of Health Studies
Doc. MUDr. Jirí Votava, CSc. is a general practitioner. His original expertise is neurology, but afterwards he studied physiotherapy, balneology, and medical rehabilitation. In his youth he played sports, ran in the Velká Kuntraticka or the Liberec fifty kilometers and, as he says with some exaggeration, gradually destroyed his hip joints. He took part in the organization of the national abilympics and the international abilympics in Prague and is the co-author of more than a dozen books. He is involved in the rehabilitation of adults and children with health disabilities, the rehabilitation of those who have brain injuries, as well as using yoga and technical aids in rehabilitation. He serves as the guarantor of the field of Occupational Therapy at the Faculty of Health Studies at UJEP.

From 1969 to 1970 you were on a study visit to the National Center for Mental Health in Washington. What did you do there?

I started as a student, as what is called today a post-graduate student, and I worked in physiology and neurology simultaneously. In the sixties there was a certain freedom and openness in international institutions which took in experts for various study visits. In Washington I studied the electrical pontential of sympathetic cells in large frogs. And even though I was in Washington with my wife and children, I returned home.

Within the last few years occupational therapy has been greatly developed in Ústí. In 2016 we had our first final state exams for graduates of the combined studies program in
occupational therapy and I had a very good feeling that
those people have a great interest in this field and,
moreover, that they are very experienced.

How did the political situation look after you returned to Czechoslovakia?

It was quite interesting. I had no place here and before leaving I had been a member of the Communist Party. When I left, I wrote that I did not agree with the changes that happened in 1969 and I requested the cancellation of my membership.
Suddenly I arrived and I didn’t know if I had been deleted or excluded. There was a very big difference. In regard to exclusion it was visible that one had made a big mistake. I did my attestation in neurology and then I found out that my base organization had recommended deleting me, but the higher authorities recommended excluding me. But nobody had approved it yet. Then the head of the rehabilitation department at the department of neurology, Professor Pfeiffer, came to me and offered me the chance to work with him. After the establishment of the Medical Rehabilitation Clinic, I moved to be with him and started to work. Between 1992 and 2004 I took over Professor Pfeiffer’s position as Head of the Medical Rehabilitation Clinic.

What takes up most of your time?

I am employed full-time at the Faculty of Health Studies in Ústí, where I have already been teaching for about nine years, and I am the supervisor of the field of Occupational Therapy. My time is also devoted to my clinic patients who are sent to me within the framework of the Prague Clinic of Medical Rehabilitation. Well-known patients also turn to me in order to be prescribed spa treatment or electric wheelchairs. Of course I devote a lot of time to my family, which is fairly large: three grown children, one younger son, and also five grandchildren. So I regularly meet with all of them and we go on holidays together.

What does the field of Occupational Therapy mean to you?

I consider it very important. In 1994, in Prague, we began the study of occupational therapy as the first university study of the subject in the Czech Republic. Occupational therapy as a profession is very important within a rehabilitation team. Occupational therapists are people who deal much more with people who have health disabilities than do physiotherapists, people who have some kind of limitations in their daily, work, or recreational activities. They try to enable them to overcome these limitations and to exercise as a means of reaching this goal.
Most of all in today’s world we are considering how to apply various compensatory aids so that the patient can be more self-reliant. However, occupational therapy is not only used in the medical field, but also in the social sphere. It is classicly used in senior homes but also, for instance, in Jedličková Ustava in Prague and in other facilities for children.
Within the last few years occupational therapy has been greatly developed in Ústí nad Labem. Within the Faculty there is now on offer a combined (distance) study of this field. Some occupational therapists who have worked in the field have not been properly qualified, and now they can be. In 2016, we first established a final state exam for graduates of the combined study of occupational therapy, and I had a very good feeling that those people are very interested in this field and, moreover, that they are very experienced.

Have you not considered accrediting a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy?

There are nations that are very advanced, like England, for example, or the Scandinavian countries and America where they have long had Master’s degree studies. There are also countries where they are just starting, like we are . . . so we are in a middle position. But there are also countries like Slovakia and Hungary where the study of occupational therapy does not exist. Some of our students who finished their Bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy in Ústí are continuing, most of them successfully, in Master’s degree studies in Prague.

You are an expert in the rehabilitation of those who have suffered brain injuries. What types of brain damage are known?

During our lives our brains are gradually damaged. Strokes are the most frequent types of brain damage, but even these are distinguishable – the transient or temporary stroke, which lasts for up to 24 hours and results in impaired speech or paralysis, and then the serious or acute stroke, which has significant consequences or leads to death.
The second group includes injuries from car accidents, drowning, or falling from heights. But the most common is the mild damage caused by concussions, which is essentially a situation when a person is unconscious for up to one hour, and then one might experience headaches for several days.
Contusion of the brain, caused, for instance, by a car accident is a more serious thing because it primarily concerns young people. It affects mobility but also speech and mental functions. At the Clinic for Medical Rehabilitation we introduced a program for those people with damaged and injured brains along with daily care and inpatient departments.

What is the cause of strokes?

Most often high blood pressure when the arteries are gradually damaged by deposits of cholesterol. The blood vessels are either clogged or they burst. Much more often, though, they are clogged and the result is then ischemia of a certain part of the brain.

Is there any kind of guidance that a healthy person could follow in order not to damage our health?

Definitely maintain a healthy diet. Smoking is also certainly not beneficial. If a person has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, he should get it treated and go for check-ups. High blood pressure is a genetic given, but may also be caused by a certain amount of stress.

You took part in the organization of the National and International Abilympics in Prague. Can you explain what this is?

Abilympics is a movement which the hard-working Japanese thought up by holding a competition in work-related skills for people with permanent disabilities. In 1981, they held the first International Abilympics. It differs from the Paralympics where the most various categories of people compete according to the degree of their disability. Here a person can assert himself in an area where he can keep up with healthy people. In the 70s I was at a congress in Switzerland and there the Japanese informed everyone about the Abilympics. I realized that here in the Czech Republic disabled people are not employed and are not capable of participating in something like this. But in 1991, when the third Abilympics were held in Hong Kong, Professor Pfeiffer and I, along with a group of Czechoslovak competitors also participated, and I must say that it was a beautiful event. The Chinese in Hong Kong were very playful, so in addition to the overtly work events like repairing televisions or producing furniture, they also had some so-called free-time events. One could see events like the making and flying of kites or flower arranging. This tradition was maintained, and afterwards, in 1995, I participated as a doctor in the Perth, Australia Abilympics along with our delegation. Our participants were relatively successful. In 2000, the Czech Republic become another one of the nations in which the Abilympics have been held. I participated intensively in the preparations.

You are also one the the proponents of using yoga in rehabilitation. How does this look currently?

Every thought has a definite rise and then it gradually vanishes. I practiced yoga myself from the seventies and I met many people who were devoted to it, both from the non-medical field (trainers and participants) as well as in the field of medicine. In 1978 we founded, within the rehabilitation organizations, sections for the use of yoga in rehabilitation, and this functioned all the way to the beginning of this new century. Every year we organized courses for doctors and specialists. Karel Nešpor, my friend, who is an expert in the treatment of addictions, is still active in this. He was even in India, in Bihar, in a well-known ashram where he got his nickname. Even now he sends me various articles related to yoga. I no longer devote much time to yoga, nor do I exercise in it, but of course I am still in touch with people who are involved in it.
In my opinion, yoga assists rehabilitation procedures in several ways. Exercising is very peaceful and therefore the danger of complications is small. Also, the psychological calming of a person is to a certain extent a defense against the various illnesses that stress can cause. Understandably, even the approach of a person to life and to oneself and one’s career can be influenced by yoga in the sense that the adverse stimuli which a person meets in life are to a certain extent neutralized. There are cases when people with serious disabilities have dedicated themselves to yoga and it brought them beneficial effects.

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