It was love at first sight for occupational therapist Deborah Rice.

Rice only intended to stay on St. Croix for a three-month working vacation. Twelve years later, she is still living her dream on her favorite island, doing what she loves with her Rice Hand Therapy practice.

From Nashville, Tenn., Rice has been an occupational therapist for 26 years. After a visit to the arthritic care center where her friend’s father, a rheumatologist, worked, she became captivated by watching an occupational therapist at work and developed a fascination for hands. She was allowed to shadow the health care workers and later volunteered at the clinic.

It blossomed from there,” she said. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Rice attended Tennessee State University, and is a licensed and board-certified occupational therapist who concentrates on therapy for the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders. She specializes in an instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization called the Graston technique and incorporates this approach with modalities such as cold laser to energize at the cellular level and speed up healing fast and radio shock wave, which stimulates new growth and healing and breaks down scar tissue. She works with post-surgery clients as well as those with inflammatory conditions.

An avid diver, Rice vacationed on St. Croix and was immediately enchanted by the island and its people. By the end of her visit, she had procured a job, returned to Tennessee to pack her bags and was back on the island three weeks later.

“It was kind of like a God thing,” Rice said. “Anything that could have been an obstacle was removed. It was like He didn’t just open doors, He pushed me through. It’s been 12 years now. I knew I found my happy place.”

Rice worked at Rehabilitation Services of St. Croix for eight years before Hurricane Maria destroyed the rehab center’s building. Shortly after, someone in Dr. Bacot’s Comprehensive Orthopaedic Global office called her about some patients. When they realized she wasn’t working, she was hired over the phone on the spot and started work the next day.

A year later, Rice was ready to go out on her own, and opened Rice Hand Therapy in Gallows Bay. She is committed to seeing only one patient per hour and giving them her full, undivided attention.

“I just had my own philosophy and I wanted to concentrate more on quality, not quantity. Most rehabs I’ve worked at, they want to double or triple book you, and I don’t feel like anybody goes away from that feeling good. Now I give every patient my full attention and do exactly what they need on that day. I feel good about being a therapist again. At the end of the day, I’m tired, but it’s a good tired, not an exhausted tired. I feel good and they feel good, and they get better.”

Along with keeping up with all the latest treatments, Rice also uses high quality CBD products to fight inflammation and treat pain. She contends that many of her post-surgery and inflammatory patients respond well to the topical product. She is currently studying for certification in cannabis topicals. There are 200 types of CBD products, each used for a different purpose, she says, and the best thing about CBD is that “if you use it for your knee, it will go receptors in other parts of the body that need it as well.”

Since Rice will only book one patient per hour, business has not really been affected by pandemic restrictions. If anything, business has increased.

“I really can’t complain,” she said. “I’ve been really busy. I think that a lot of people are not working, but they still have their injury. Now, they actually have time to address those aches and pains that they couldn’t get off work to deal with before.”

Rice Hand Therapy is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. by appointment, but hours can be flexible. Most major private insurance is accepted. Call 340-514-2334 for an appointment.