Hemiplegia cerebral palsy. Wes and Molly Chinn never put much thought into these three words, until they heard a doctor diagnose their daughter Annison with this very condition; their infant girl was born with challenges to overcome.
Hemiplegia cerebral palsy refers to half of the body in a paralysis state. Usually the result of stroke, this condition results in limited function on the affected side. For Annison, the use of her left leg, arm and hand was severely restricted; her parents were told that Annison would probably never be able to have much use of those limbs at all due to the effects of a stroke while in the womb.
After the initial shock came a tremendous learning curve to figure out how best to serve their baby girl. Wes and Molly entered the world of therapy. Initially, it was difficult to find treatment with positive results for Annison. When a child receives aggressive muscle treatment, there has to be a remarkable amount of trust present between child and therapist. After visiting several clinics, the Chinns were unsettled, as Annison was not cooperating with the treatments. Finally, the family came to Boyer.
Almost immediately, 8-month old Annison established a strong connection with Physical Therapist Carolyn Kates, the first Boyer staff member to see her for treatment. With 26 years of experience, Kates approached Annison in a welcoming and calming manner. Annison smiled and crawled into Kates’ lap; trust was established at the very start of the Boyer experience.
When asked what the family’s expectations were for Annison, the Chinns resolutely stated that they wanted to see their daughter use both sides of her body normally. They firmly believed that with hard work and determination, Annison would one day use the left side of her body in a highly functioning way.
Like every child at Boyer, Annison was assigned a team of therapists and educators who focused on her needs and, working with the family, defined treatment goals and objectives: Kates worked on gross motor skills and muscle tissue therapy; Kris Echigo, Special Education Teacher, involved Annison in the classroom; Judy Dittmer, Speech-Language-Pathologist, focused on language development; and Kathy Stewart, Occupational Therapist and Research Coordinator, worked on fine motor skills.
Wes Chinn believes Boyer to be the most progressive therapeutic and educational institution for developmentally delayed children in the region. “Boyer is cutting edge, willing to try new ideas to help kids, looking for ways to improve, and thoughtful about processes.” Boyer staff is continually researching evidence-based materials out in the field, looking to incorporate successful new treatments when applicable to a child’s needs.
In Annison’s case, Stewart believed a relatively new form of therapy called Constraint Induced Therapy (CIT) could help to improve Annison’s condition. CIT had recently been developed and tested at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and involves placing a hard cast on a child’s unaffected limb, forcing the child to try to use the impacted side of his or her body.
Initially, the Chinns were hesitant - forcing their child to restrict her usable limb seemed like a cruel thing to do. But Stewart supplied them with the evidence-based research supporting the treatment and they soon became convinced that CIT was worth pursuing.
Stewart partnered with Seattle Children’s Hospital to learn more about CIT and was trained to mold a cast by a Children’s therapist. Annison was 2-1/2 when the intensive treatment began, with Stewart casting Annison’s right arm for three weeks. Stewart devoted herself to seeing the little girl every day during CIT, and recruited University of Washington occupational therapy graduate students to assist in the Chinn home. Though the treatment was a challenge, Annison’s willingness to try difficult things, dedicated persistence, and strong network of supporters, saw her through.
After seeing positive results after the first treatment, Boyer and the Chinns agreed to try CIT a second time when Annison turned 3-1/2, and again after she turned 4. Each treatment was more successful than the previous; Annison is now able to grasp objects with her left hand, dress herself, and help mom in the kitchen with the rolling pin.
“Annison exceeded all expectations. At the age of 4, she is still getting better,” Wes happily relates. Her protective reaction developed, now stretching out her left arm to cushion a fall. She also trusts other newfound abilities, such as shifting weight to her left leg.
Because of Annison’s successes with CIT, more Occupational Therapists at Boyer are interested in using the technique. Thanks to Stewart’s collaboration with Seattle Children’s Hospital, Boyer now has the training to offer treatment and the ability to manufacture casts on-site.
CIT was just one facet of therapy and support that Annison received at Boyer. Many staff members, the Executive Director, and outside collaborators were able to impact Annison’s journey to improvement. As the primary caregivers, Wes and Molly also desired to be active participants in Annison’s physical betterment. Family involvement is a key element of Boyer’s program.
“I don’t feel lost anymore,” Wes strongly relates on being able to accommodate Annison’s goals outside of Boyer. Boyer laid the groundwork for Annison and her family to be empowered, to remain committed to pursuing life with no limits.
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