The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

April 30, 2014

Masseuse Hess: ‘I see the world with my hands’

MAHONING TWP. — Lara Hess may not have the magic touch, but she comes pretty close.

“I see the world with my hands,” said the therapeutic masseuse, who works out of Danville Body Works at 1414 Bloom Road. Seeing the world in this way has been a life-long habit of Hess, who has been legally blind since birth.

Her decision to become a massage therapist came about shortly after the birth of her son. She previously worked in Geisinger Medical Center’s human resources department, and most of her time was spent away from her boy.

“I was unhappy. I wanted to be a mother,” she said. She was talking with her brother who suggested out of the blue that she could go to massage school.

“It was like someone turned on a light. I said, that’s it,” she said.

Massage therapy came easily for Hess, given how much of the world she already interpreted through touch.

“I was already very attuned to what I was feeling,” she said. “That became clear when we were doing the practice sessions in school, other people weren’t able to feel what I was feeling.”

Hess was able to more acutely detect where the muscle tissue on a patient changes due to her experiences “seeing” the world with her hands. She remembered trying to point out these trigger points to her fellow classmates.

“They went down the same area and said I don’t feel anything. … For me, it just jumped right out at me,” she said.

Hess specializes in therapeutic massage, meant to give relief to people suffering from injuries or chronic pain. Among those she has treated are injured athletes, elderly people with stiffened joints, office workers with neck and shoulder problems from sitting with bad posture at a desk and physicians who are sore from standing for long periods of time.

Around her office, Hess uses several devices to assist in her practice. Her iPhone in particular “has been a life-changing piece of equipment,” she said. The phone is set up to automatically announce calendar appointments and a voice command system allows Hess to use other functions of the phone.

“The biggest challenge in this business is managing the appointment schedule,” Hess said. If an appointment doesn’t make it into her phone, she often has trouble keeping up with it due to her vision impairment.

While legally blind with no night or peripheral vision, Hess can see forms, shapes and movement a few feet in front of her. This allows her to read and write words that are magnified, which she does through a closed-circuit TV system known as a V-Tech. A paper or book placed under the V-Tech’s magnifying lens appears on a TV screen in a greatly enlarged format. Hess has owned the V-Tech in her office since high school and keeps a newer model in her home next door.

“I love this job,” she said. One of the reasons for that is her experience with her own disability, where she had often found herself in the role of the person requiring help. Within Danville Body Works, which is connected to her house, she is entirely self-sufficient and able to help others.

“They’re able to sleep at night, they can stand up straight … It makes me feel useful, feel needed and allows me to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” she said.

“There are so many people in this town that are helpful and good neighbors. I couldn’t do what I do without the help of my friends and neighbors,” Hess said. “I just have such a great love of Danville thanks to the people here.”

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