Home Fairfield Cow mishap leads to career in physical therapy for Newtown’s Karin LaBanca

Cow mishap leads to career in physical therapy for Newtown’s Karin LaBanca

It’s not everyone who discovers their vocation by having their back fractured by a cow. But that’s precisely how then-16-year-old Karin LaBanca found herself on a career path that led her to be both the owner of Newtown-based Fisio Physical Therapy & Wellness LLC and the landlord of her building at 141 Mount Pleasant Road.

“It happened while I was working on our family’s dairy farm in Deansboro, New York,” LaBanca recalled. “I was trying to get the cow out of a stall and got crushed into the side of the barn.”

Karin LaBanca with a patient. Photo by Kevin Zimmerman

Thanks to what she terms “an ill-informed internist,” it took six months for X-rays to be run on LaBanca, at which point it was found that she had several sacrum fractures. Recovery eventually led her to physical therapist Sandy MacKinnon in nearby Hamilton, New York, for twice-weekly sessions that lasted six months.

LaBanca said, “I thought, ‘What a great career she has, helping to make people feel better.’” She added, “I ended up working for her as an aide, and she became my mentor.”

In fact, LaBanca followed in MacKinnon’s footsteps and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Russell Sage College in Troy, New York in 1994 — 47 years after MacKinnon had done the same.

“We’re friends to this day,” LaBanca enthused. “She’s now 82 years old, and we still talk often.”

She returned to college at Quinnipiac University to obtain a master’s degree in orthopedics in 2001, and received a doctorate in physical therapy from Creighton University in 2007. LaBanca had relocated to Newtown in 2003 when her husband Frank became a science teacher at Newtown High School; he’s now the principal at Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury.

Working steadily at various hospitals and clinics, it was only when she was laid up after foot reconstruction surgery in 2010 that entrepreneurship first entered
the picture.

Having learned of a closing physical therapy clinic in Hamilton, her father David Williams bought its equipment for her for $5,000 and shipped it to Newtown. LaBanca said it sat in her driveway for 15 months while she recuperated and began learning about starting a business, leading to the opening of Fisio in 2011.

“I had 10-and-a-half years of college, but hadn’t taken one business course,” she said. “I did a lot of studying, had a lot of conversations and found what a great resource the Women’s Business Development Council (based in Stamford) can be. But it still involved learning about the hidden costs of operating a business, about unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, labor laws … it really was a trial by fire.”

Originally located at 53 Lake Ave. Extension in Danbury, Fisio moved to its present location last December after her husband spotted the vacancy in the Mount Pleasant Road building, which also houses Handyman Connection and Gift of Gab Speech & Language Services.

“We ended up buying the building since it represented another income stream,” she said, adding that the rent essentially pays for the mortgage. Fisio takes up roughly 2,000 of the building’s 3,300 square feet.

“Fisio” is the Brazilian slang word for physical therapy. As a Rotary Club exchange student, LaBanca went to São Paulo at the age of 18, where her experiences included working for one host family member who was a physical therapist. The proximity to the roughly 5,500 Brazilians who live in Danbury helps LaBanca draw patients and allows her to continue exercising her Portuguese language skills, she said.

As opposed to many physical therapy practices, Fisio operates six private rooms — one of which is rented to a massage
therapist — allowing LaBanca, physical therapist Ashley Witson and her support staff
to see up to six patients at once for 45-minute sessions; larger centers can have “dozens of bodies in one big room, all competing for attention” during their
30 minutes of therapy, she said.

Such a private approach “creates more of a rapport with our clients,” LaBanca said. “We’re not necessarily interested in volume, but in providing a fun, relaxing atmosphere that people seem to like.”

LaBanca said that in 2016 Fisio saw 3,831 patients, for a gross income of $322,000 that included $5,000 in product sales and $18,000 in rental income.

Through July 25 of this year, Fisio saw 2,144 patients for a gross income of $193,000, including $187,000 in physical therapy revenue, $3,000 in rental income and about $1,900 in product sales.



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