New Evanston Physical Therapy Clinic Realizes Owner’s Dream
EVANSTON, IL — Last year, Skillz Physical Therapy co-owners Amie Maranan and Nsisong Ekanem were preparing to open up their first clinic just as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep through Illinois.
Their plan was to open in February 2020 at a strip mall at the corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue on the site of a former cleaner’s. The date got pushed back to March by contractors. Then the governor issued a stay-at-home order.
“We were thinking, do we negotiate our way out of the contract? Or what do we do?” Ekanem said. “But Amie was consistent on staying true to our goal and her dream of opening a clinic, so I kind of bit the bullet and decided to just proceed and go forward with it.”
After delays from construction permits and approval, Skillz Physical Therapy was eventually able to open its doors in July 2020.
But the business then went about two months seeing hardly any patients at its 839 Dodge Ave. location, Ekanem told Patch.
“It was very scary, to say the least. Being a new company in general — having to get awareness, people to know you — is scary enough,” he said. “But with the pandemic, that just made it 10 times harder, because now we had individuals who were fearful of coming outside.”
Maranan said she and Ekanem have been working to build awareness of their new business.
“We have a good set of skills that we want to offer to our patients to get them well, but it seems like we don’t know where to go,” Maranan told Patch. “The people don’t know we exist here, because most of the time people still think this is a cleaner’s.”
Maranan and Ekanem, who are both business and romantic partners, have lived in Evanston for the past two years.
Before that, Maranan had spent five years living across Illinois — moving every three to six months between towns including East Moline, Galesburg, Peoria, Peru, Schaumburg and Westmont. She said she wanted to open up her first clinic of her own in a community where she could put down roots.
“I decided when I’m going to put up my first location I’d rather be in a place I really love, safe for my family and for my son, so I researched online the best cities in Illinois, and Evanston is one of them,” Maranan said. “So when we were starting to find a location, we looked here in Evanston and fortunately we found this one.”
Out of all the places she’s been in Illinois, Maranan said Evanston was the best, and the owners of neighboring businesses have all been supportive.
“Businesswise, everyone is helpful. I love when most of my patients, during the pandemic, said that they came to us because they love supporting local businesses and they would rather support us than go to big box companies,” she said. “As a local, I feel that it’s diverse and everyone is welcoming.”
Ekanem grew up in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood after immigrating with his family from Nigeria. He would later move to the south suburbs, but after getting his Master of Business Administration degree, he missed the north side, he said.
What separates Skillz from other physical therapy providers, he said, was its commitment to individualized treatment. Unlike corporate or franchise operations, patients do not arrive to find five or six other people being treated at the same time.
“We provide one-on-one care,” he said “It’s not traditional therapy with a big box company, where you feel like you are just a number or being on a conveyor belt.”
Plus, Ekanem said, Skillz is the only spot in the area outside of Northwestern University that offers laser therapy.
“Laser therapy is a process of photobiomodulation,” Maranan explained. “That activates the ATP of the cell, the powerhouse of the cell. So when that’s activated, it will also activate increasing blood circulation and decreasing pain, and it will make the recovery faster.”
Currently, Maranan handles all the clinic’s day-to-day operations — reception, billing, scheduling, physical therapy and cleanup, although they hope to hire a part-time therapist to assist in the future.
Back pain is the most common form of pain among her patients, Maranan said.
“Because, I think, especially now, most people are sitting at their desk, doing their at-home job, so most of the time they just sit at eight hours or more,” she said. “They’re not doing the regular activities like when they’re in their offices — like walking around, going to the fax machine, going up and down the stairs. Those regular things are not done anymore, so I think that’s the reason why they have more back pain.”
To avoid allowing acute injuries to become chronic, Maranan recommended people call a physical therapist for a quick screening right away when they begin to experience new pains. People can see a therapist without a doctor’s referral.
If there’s no improvement after two weeks, then they should see a doctor, but if there is improvement after two weeks, the program can continue, she said. In addition to physical and laser therapy, Skillz offers cupping, joint healing, kineseo-taping and injury screening.
“It’s very accessible for everyone,” Maranan said. “So it’s better to ask your physical therapist right away, in the early stage, than what I encounter most of the time, they just think, ‘Oh, this will go away,’ ‘Oh, I’ll just massage,’ ‘Oh, I’ll just do some stretches.’ But eventually it gets worse because the root cause of the back pain is not addressed.”