Rockford woman has spent 30 years helping people hurt on the job

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Charlene Ratzlow has made it her life’s mission to be an advocate for people injured while at work.

Whether it’s going to doctors appointments or the workplace, to make sure they can still do their job after recovery, Ratzlow is with them every step on the road to recovery.

Since there are a lot of manufacturing and farming workers that work all hours of the day, Ratzlow is on call 24/7.

Ratzlow has been working as a catastrophic nurse and case manager for the last 3 decades.

“We started with one employer to work with, and since then there are now 57 clinics in the area, all doing occupational medicine,” she said.

She says the medical field is crucial to areas like the Rockford region, because of the number of manufacturing jobs.

Her role is to be a ’round-the-clock advocate for anyone who gets hurt.

“They may have the desire to do it and the company may want them back very much, but we have to be very careful about putting them back into a situation where they’re not going to get re-injured,” she said.

Of her career, she said, “I think of it as, like, a point guard on the basketball court. You know, you’re calling the plays. You’r doing what you need to do. You’re having your little team meetings. You’re getting everybody on the same page, instead of fragmented here, there, everywhere.

“That way, I can explain what they’re doing, what we need to do – as far as their job – and things like that, making sure that they’re healing right,” she continued. “I usually ask a family member to come with, so they realize that what they have for restrictions need to occur at home.”

Whether the person goes back to work days or months after the injury, Charlene aims to help them find a new sense of normal throughout the recovery process.

“You don’t think about it when someone has an injury, but when you start to think about all the activities of daily living, that they’re unaware of being able to do, this means going into their home, setting up their restrooms for them, their kitchens, things like that. Baseboards, all the things you don’t think of that can go through a wheelchair. So, these are a lot of the things that I coordinate,” she said.

Giving people a second chance after injury is her passion, because she says she got one when she was a girl.

“I was raised in an orphanage. I was adopted by a family in Chicago. And I know, if it wasn’t for my parents having gone for a ride one day, by an orphanage, and picked me up, I would never have this second chance,” she said. “I never ever want to deter or defer any chance that I can, to help somebody else the way that I feel I’ve been helped.

“And if I have to give back to my dying day, this is what I’m going to do. And it warms my heart to be able to do that,” she added.

Ratzlow is also certified to work as a nurse on REACT helicopters as well, and was the driving force behind getting a pair of Navy SEAL prosthetic legs for one of her patients who lost both in a work-related explosion.

The specialized prosthesis allowed him to resume a lot of the athletic activities he did before the accident.

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