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Published on August 22, 2017


Meaningful care and therapy…with popcorn

Popcorn has been part of Laverne Pientok's life for decades.

"On the farm, my mother carried the old recipe with her. I've been making popcorn since I was a kid. I use all of the old time materials: a big pan on the stovetop with some oil, salt, butter and pork lard, which is hard to find these days," the 87-year-old Whitehall resident says with a laugh.

Laverne Pientok

Laverne's popcorn prowess sustained him through life on the farm, a stint in Italy with the U.S. Army and running the family business – Tri-City Sanitation in Whitehall, founded by his father in 1936 – until he retired in 1994.

His favorite treat even helped him recover after he was hospitalized.

"It was 2016, and I was in a lot of pain," Laverne says. "It would come and go while I was at home, but I finally drove myself to the clinic (Gundersen Tri-County Hospital and Clinics Whitehall) and staggered in."

Laverne was admitted to Gundersen Tri-County Hospital in Whitehall and spent nearly a month there recovering from several ailments, including stenosis – a narrowing of vessels that can cause pain and other problems.

When he was well enough, Laverne started therapy to build his strength. But his pain caused frustration during therapy.

"I was, you might say, 'feisty,'" Laverne says. "I was hesitant to do the therapy movements because I was in so much pain."

Amanda Janke, one of Laverne's occupational therapists, saw his hesitation, but also saw an opportunity to use something Laverne loves to improve his care.

Amanda Janke

Amanda Janke, OT

"When a patient does a meaningful activity during therapy, they are more motivated to do the therapy," Amanda shares. "For Laverne, that activity was making homemade popcorn."

Amanda and her team collected popcorn ingredients and, of course, Laverne's preferred cast iron pan, and set up sessions in Gundersen Tri-County's therapy kitchen.

"We try to focus on a 'just-right challenge' for patients' therapy, a task that's difficult, but not too difficult," Amanda says. "Making popcorn gave Laverne confidence and helped him get back to his normal activities."

And is the popcorn good?

"Oh, it's good. Some of my co-workers say it's the best popcorn in the world," Amanda laughs.

Laverne is now back home, living independently and with the same feistiness that helped him recover. And popcorn continues to sustain his soul and appetite.

"It's something that, after you do it as much as I've done it, it becomes automatic," Laverne says. "Popcorn helped me get back to my normal self. I got to know the staff better, they learned a little something about making popcorn, and I got stronger."

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