One Boyer Graduate Returns 20 Years Later

Kayla Tanaka

Inspiration For All Those Who Follow in Her Path

Kayla Tanaka is a thriving 25 year old woman, but you wouldn’t guess the challenges she faced – and overcame – during her childhood. Born eight weeks premature, she was diagnosed at birth with spastic cerebral palsy (CP) and congenital heart disease. Within the first four months of her life she underwent three surgeries for her heart disease. During that time her parents, Noreen Tanaka and Richard Gildow, learned as much as they could about their daughter’s CP diagnosis, one that would affect Kayla’s body movement and muscle coordination, and had no cure.

During their research, Kayla’s parents were referred to The Boyer Children’s Clinic, and at 14 months old Kayla began receiving therapy from Sue Wendell, an Occupational Therapist. Over the next two years, Sue worked with Kayla to improve the muscle strength and coordination in her upper and lower extremities.

As a toddler, Kayla attended special education classes at Boyer to help develop her communication and social skills. At three years old, Kayla graduated from Boyer’s special education classes and began attending preschool classes at Lowell Elementary. There she received one session of therapy a week, and continued with additional sessions at Boyer twice a week.

When Kayla was four, she underwent a revolutionary surgery for people with CP, a selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), in order to improve her range of motion, muscle strength, and endurance. To this day, SDR is the only surgical procedure that can provide permanent reduction of muscle stiffness in people with CP. Kayla was one of the first 200 children to receive this surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Just four days later, Kayla returned to her therapy sessions at Boyer. Her therapists noticed while her hips were much looser, moving into a sitting position remained uncomfortable as her back would arch and her head and neck became stressed as they stretched forward. Additionally, Kayla still retained significant muscle tightness in her feet and ankles.
In order to address this tightness, her therapist at Boyer recommended that she use foot orthotics to help control her ankle position and compensate for muscle weakness. After 18 more months of therapy and special education, Kayla was able to sit in a stable position, transfer into and out of her wheelchair independently, and even walk with the assistance of a walker.

That was 20 years ago, and today, Kayla’s therapists and teachers are proud and inspired by the amazing progress that she has made, and the beautiful woman she has become. She has a summer position with the City of Kent: Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, where she will help lead the youth program. She is also independently mobile by using one of her two wheel chairs – a power chair and the manual chair she had since she was three years old.

Earlier in 2014, Kayla returned to Boyer to reunite with her former therapists and teachers who continue to work at Boyer. “It was such a joy to see Kayla all grown up and the amazing progress that she has made since she started her therapy with me 20 years ago,” remarks Sue in awe.

Carolyn Kates, another of Kayla’s Physical Therapists at Boyer, enthusiastically agrees. “I love when former clients like Kayla visit. She is a reminder of the amazing impact early intervention services continue to have on a child into adulthood.”

Kayla is just one of the thousands of clients who have received early intervention services since Boyer opened its doors more than 70 years ago. As the largest provider of early intervention services in Seattle for children birth to three with disabilities and developmental delays, Boyer’s mission and services are individualized to meet the needs of each child, and tailored to support the family and caregivers.



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