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ELON, N.C. — Nine-year-old Lauren Petty needs physical therapy, but she chooses to do some of her sessions at Elon University to give students hands-on practice.

“What we do in the classroom, I can’t do in the lab.  I really need patients to recreate a therapy session, so that the students have an opportunity to work with children and their families,” said Paula DiBiasio who is a doctor of physical therapy and professor overseeing students in Elon’s ‘Clients to Class’ program.

Lauren has a mitochondrial disease that makes her always feel tired.

“Paula teaches these kids to read Lauren’s body language, to look at the signals that her body may be starting to fatigue and she may need a break,” said Lauren’s mother Jennifer Petty.

The students have an opportunity to work with pediatric patients such as Lauren and they learn from each other.

“So having Lauren as my first pediatric patient ever was awesome because she is so patient and hard-working, and if I mess up she will never give me a hard time.  She is really great and fun, and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work with her,” said Paige Copeland, a third-year doctor of physical therapy student at Elon.

Erica Jardine, who is also a third-year doctor of physical therapy student at Elon, said, “The support from the community, the number of people that come in to help us learn and help us practice what we are learning in a textbook and put it to use before we head out to the clinic it’s amazing.”

This year, Lauren is teaching by example in another way.  She is using her therapy reimbursement check to buy stuffed animals for sick kids at Duke Children’s Hospital.

When asked why she wanted to do that for the children, Lauren said, “Because I know how it feels to stay in a hospital bed feeling sick.”

Lauren understands the importance of compassion.  She has received compassion from the physical therapy students at Elon and she wants to show others compassion.

Lauren is hoping to collect 500 stuffed animals.  Her friends at Elon sent her home with more than she could carry when she came for her last session this year.