Fishing as part of rehab

Published on: March 28, 2019

Program brings joy to aging senior


Leonard Laga, 91, a long-term resident of Sun Terrace, proudly shows a 5-pound bass he recently caught in Lake Sweetheart behind Sun Towers. Fishing is now part of his weekly maintenance therapy at the Sun Towers Rehabilitation Department.

The therapists of Sun Towers Outpatient Rehabilitation Center are continually looking for ways to improve the quality of life for their patients, many of whom live in Sun Towers or Sun Terrace.
One of their most recent innovations was the idea of occupational therapist Steve Zill, who came up with a new activity for Leonard Laga’s maintenance therapy program.
Zill had worked with Laga for about a year, and he was looking for something to bring some joy into the 91-year-old Sun Terrace resident’s life.
“More than anything, I wanted to get him back to doing something he did when he was more independent,” Zill said. “Leonard was an avid fisherman all his life, and he loved it, so we introduced fishing as part of his weekly therapy.”
Laga was overjoyed. He fishes from a dock that overlooks Sweetheart Lake on the Sun Towers property. Bass, tilapia, sunfish and blue gill thrive in its waters.
“I love it,” Laga said, standing from his wheelchair to watch a number of fish swimming around his bait. “I wish I could do it three times a week!”
Laga fished all over the world in his past and owned a 32-foot boat he docked in Hollywood. He likes to recount how he once caught a 120-pound sailfish, he said.
The staff surrounding Laga is thrilled for him.

Fishing has brought joy back into Leonard Laga’s life, and that was the intent, said his occupational therapist Steve Zill. Lage said he loves it and wishes he could be out on the dock three times a week. DEBBIE CANEEN PHOTOS

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Joelle Schahfer, director of rehabilitation for both Sun Towers and Sun Terrace. “It’s completely changed Leonard’s life and made him much more social in outpatient therapy. He lives for this each week.”
Debbie Caneen, Sun Towers director of admissions, agrees.
“My heart melted the first time I saw him out there,” she said. “It was good to see him so happy, outside enjoying the fresh air and doing something he loves.”
That inspired Caneen to work with Sun Towers Activities Director Sheila Kiraly to start a supervised club for residents called the Fishing Fanatics.
Beginning April 26, members will meet the fourth Friday of every month. Tackle, bait, beverages and snacks will be provided.
Karen Stone, a fishing fanatic herself and member of the Valencia Lakes Fishing Club, has volunteered to attend and provide tips and assistance to members.
Stone is a skilled angler with 60 years of freshwater and saltwater fishing. She still fishes daily.
Having cared for her aging mother for many years, Stone understands and appreciates the needs of seniors, so she should be a perfect fit, Caneen said.
“I’ve wanted to have a fishing club for years,” Caneen continued. “This just seemed the perfect time to start.”

This is a view of Sweetheart Lake behind the pool area at Sun Towers. Blue gill, tilapia, bass and sunfish thrive in its waters.