Tag Archives: physical therapy

The Reality of Hope

Every day I work with individuals whose lives have been drastically changed by paralysis. My job is twofold: first, to provide innovative therapies to help promote recovery and, second, to inspire and motivate my patients to push through the difficult times–sometimes as the encouraging cheerleader, and other times the demanding coach.

In my job, I’ve come to realize that we’re each gifted with a unique set of skills and abilities that allow us to contribute to the world around us. If we’re lucky, perhaps we can even use those talents to inspire and motivate others. But when I started my career in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, hoping to make a difference in the lives of my patients, I never expected that my patients would be the ones who constantly inspire and motivate me.

Brian Keefer is a patient whose strength, determination and genuine love for life inspire me in ways that are hard to put into words. In 2008, Brian was paralyzed from the neck down after a gymnastics flip gone awry. Soon after his injury, Brian and his family began making the 140-mile trip from to Kennedy Krieger every day for two weeks during his school breaks. Here, during bouts of intensive therapy, Brian spends five to six hours daily working with our team, all while maintaining a smile and exerting 100-percent effort.

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Miracle for Megan

I first met Megan Miceli when she was 6 months old. She was a beautiful little girl with blond hair and blue eyes and an infectious smile that reached from ear to ear. But when her parents noticed that Megan wasn’t hitting milestones at the rate her siblings had, they grew concerned and brought her to Kennedy Krieger.

With weekly physical therapy sessions and her mother diligently working with Megan at home, she slowly began making strides in her motor skills. In the meantime, an extensive medical workup revealed she had hypotonia and a gene microdeletion, which was the root of her medical problems. The gene deletion is so rare that there have only been six reported cases since 2009. In addition she was also recently diagnosed with episodic hemiplegia, another disorder that affects 1 in 1 million people. Without warning, Megan can experience an attack of paralysis on the left side of her body multiple times per week, each lasting between 5 and 20 minutes.

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No Ordinary 4-year-old

Working on the inpatient unit of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many incredible patients and families. I am often the first therapist the family has met since their child (or young adult) was first diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. In this role, I get the opportunity to help turn a challenging and traumatic situation into one of hope and recovery. It’s a privilege to work with these families during this emotional time of transition.

This past May, I met the Jermano family, to whom I would like to dedicate this blog. Their quest to create a fulfilling life for their daughter Mia, along with their continuous hope for her recovery, is truly an inspiration to my work.
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Pretty in Pink

It’s a classic backyard image: a kid flying through the air on a swing set.

Aside from the occasional bumps and bruises, it’s also not something that seems especially fraught with danger. And in truth, although swing sets and playgrounds are often cited for safety concerns, serious injuries remain relatively rare.

Rarity, however, seems to make tragic accidents an even tougher pill to swallow.

It started with Mikaela Deenen innocently swinging in the backyard. But, unbeknownst to her or her family, torrential rains here in Maryland had caused the swing set to come loose from the ground. When it toppled over, the swing set landed on top of Mikaela, crushing her spine. Continue reading

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All by himself

Miracles happen every day at PACT. Kendal is living proof.

Weighing just 1 lb., 1 oz., when he was born at 29 weeks, Kendal and his parents fought and prayed a lot during his first five months, which he spent in the hospital. Low levels of amniotic fluid caused intrauterine growth forced his mother’s doctor to deliver the baby boy early, both for his health and his mother’s.

It wasn’t until five months later that he was released from the hospital. When he came home, his mother took two months off of work so she could manage his multiple medications, heart monitor, doctor’s appointments, and sometimes challenging feedings. Because of his early birth and small size, he had multiple health and developmental problems. All of this in addition, plus adjusting to life with a new baby! Continue reading

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The Turtle Walks

Working as an outpatient physical therapist at Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury (ICSCI), I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many individuals who motivate and inspire me on a daily basis. I often try to put myself in their shoes, wondering how I would cope with a catastrophic injury such as paralysis. Although I have a hard time answering that question myself, I have encountered an individual whose strength of character sets an example of how I can only hope I would endure such a situation. That individual is 22-year-old Peter Exner.

A motor vehicle accident in December of 2009 caused spinal fractures in the thoracic and lumbar portions of Peter’s spinal column, resulting in damage to his spinal cord. This injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. In additional to the spinal cord injury, he also had other life-threatening and painful injuries such as internal bleeding, rib fractures, collapsed lungs, and both arms broken. After surgeries to stabilize his spine and arm fractures, he began the grueling process of rehabilitation.

Peter would be considered a complex case by any therapist. But he never let his numerous injuries slow him down in his recovery. Even at the beginning—before his admission to Kennedy Krieger—when he was placed in a nursing home at the age of 20, his determination never faltered. Meanwhile, even when he experienced significant and debilitating pain as a result of the nerve damage, he continued to participate in intensive physical and occupational therapy as an inpatient at the ICSCI. Continue reading

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Defining Determination

I wouldn’t be surprised to look up the definition of “determination” in a dictionary, only to find a photo of a smiling John “Alex” Curtis.

On the day he was admitted to our inpatient rehabilitation unit, his mother told me, “You know, Alex is a very special child.” Of course, all of us parents think the same about our kids. But throughout his time with us, Alex proved his mother right.

Alex came to Kennedy Krieger Institute for intensive inpatient rehabilitation after he had an operation elsewhere to fix a chest wall abnormality called Pectus Excavatum. If severe and untreated, the condition can affect the ability to breathe. Unfortunately, a complication occurred during the procedure and Alex woke from surgery unable to walk.

I remember within those first few days, Alex told me in a matter-of-fact way that he was going to walk again. I hope for a full recovery for all of my patients, but experience has told me that nothing is guaranteed. Alex, however, didn’t need my hope or guarantee: He knew he would walk again. There was simply never any doubt in his mind. Continue reading

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Simple Steps

Last Monday was a big day in the life of one of my patients: He graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in political science. His parents and siblings were there to applaud as he accepted his diploma and turned his tassel. It was an experience that thousands of college students will have this month, but for Matt Courson, this already special day was momentous.

Before a crowd of thousands, Matt lifted himself from his wheelchair and traveled across the stage on his own two feet with the help of a walker and leg braces. It wasn’t the first time he had walked since a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down (our team in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury has been working hard on this with Matt in therapy), but it marked the realization of a goal that others had told Matt would never happen. Continue reading

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Can I Play With That Nerf Gun?

It was almost three years ago when I met Noah Hanssen for the first time; his mother wheeled him into our therapy gym and I introduced myself as his new physical therapist. I wanted him to feel comfortable and safe – after all, new people and places can be intimidating for an 8-year-old, especially one in need of intensive therapy. And I’ve learned over the years when working with kids, sometimes we need a bit of a “warm-up” period before they show me their true personality.

But not Noah. Instantly I could tell that he is bright, adventurous, and active. His smile won me over in seconds, as he asked his most important question during our evaluation: “Can I play with that Nerf gun over there?”

Noah and I became a team over the next few months. Always fearless and unquestioning, he was motivated to try anything I asked of him, just so long as it was fun. He challenged me to get creative and cleverly disguise his therapy as rambunctious activities that any boy his age would love. Continue reading

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“Houston, we have a problem…”

One of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13”, a tale of astronauts who experience a near-fatal accident en route to the moon. With the help of mission control in Houston, they ultimately survive a harrowing attempt to return to earth alive. For them, failure was not an option.

For most of 2009, Daniel was a typical 13-year-old boy who enjoyed hanging out with his twin brother and loved playing with LEGOs. But that Fall, he caught H1N1 Influenza and never fully recovered. There was no explanation for why the influenza virus had hit Daniel so hard. He grew very weak, and, unable to eat, he needed a gastrostomy tube to provide the nutrition and calories his body demanded. Severe pain kept him out of school, out of his life, for over a year. His parents desperately wanted help for their bedridden son, who spent most of his time curled up in a fetal position. They saw doctor after doctor in New York, but nothing seemed to help.

Daniel’s last hope was Kennedy Krieger Institute. And so, in a final attempt to relieve the chronic pain that was ruining his life, he and his family came to Baltimore.

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