November 09, 2023
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Malcolm X College is home to the 2024 Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy (ANPT) PTA Clinical Excellence Award winner, Walter Guminiak.
This prestigious award is given to one Physical Therapist Assistant in the country who has contributed to the practice of neurologic physical therapy, provides superior care to neurologic patients, and shares their expertise with up-and-coming Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA).
As an adjunct professor at Malcolm X, and a 22-year PTA, Walter fits the description of the ideal award recipient to a tee.
Walter decided he wanted to be a PTA at just 11 years old. An injury left his father paralyzed from the neck down, but after a year of physical therapy, Walter’s father regained the use of his left side. Walter tagged along with his dad for physical, speech, and occupational therapy, interacted with his father’s therapists, and learned how they helped patients. Eventually, Walter got the chance to push wheelchairs and interact with the other patients. One of those patient interactions really stuck with Walter.
A teenager with a spinal cord injury from a football accident was struggling with his injury and the fact that his life had changed. Walter grew close with the teen and eventually, Walter’s encouragement got him to stand with his braces and walk.
“That was the moment I knew what I wanted to do,” Walter said. “I could see my interaction with him got him to do something that doctors said he’d never be able to do.”
Eventually, Walter attended Oakton Community College and enrolled in its PTA program. There, he took the national exam, got his license, and met his wife, who is also a PTA. Walter achieved his goal of working with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, in adult outpatient therapy. He also made plans to teach one day.
“I had amazing experiences with other professors and some of the therapists my dad had were teachers,” Walter explained. “I wanted to emulate what they did. I looked up to them and what they did for my father.”
That chance to teach came sooner than expected. Walter made a strong impression on one physical therapist who connected him with Dean of the Health Science and Career Programs at Malcolm X, Elizabeth Gmitter. She was looking for someone to be on the advisory board for a new PTA program. Walter joined and brought his wife Bridget Guminiak too. They helped develop the PTA program and eventually became adjunct faculty members.
Throughout Walter’s PTA career, he’s had a variety of unique opportunities. He received certification in neuro, orthopedics, and aquatics, works with robotic devices that help people walk, and is a prosthetic specialist who works with patients with lower extremity prosthetics. He’s worked with the Shedd Aquarium to develop equipment to get people with varied abilities in and out of the pools with beluga whales, and helped make other exhibits ADA-compliant. Walter has also helped start a paralympic pediatric swim team.
Due to Walter’s varied experiences, he’s made a ton of connections, which led to him being nominated for this award. One day in October 2023, Walter got a voicemail. He learned he’d won the ANPT PT Clinical Excellence Award.
“I had to listen to it three times just to make sure I wasn’t daydreaming,” Walter said.
His wife, daughter, sister, and father are all extremely proud of him. It’s a full circle moment for Walter that he can celebrate this accomplishment with his father who played a major role in his career path. For Walter, this award is a nice reminder that at 11-years-old, he made the right choice
“Everything I love and everything I do is because it brings me joy to know I’m helping others and making other people’s lives better,” he said.
Walter will officially accept his award at a ceremony on February 16, 2024.