Two Steps Ahead: Surgery + PT = Success for CP Patient

“A man on his feet,’’ was the way La Rabida Children’s Hospital physical therapist Deb Stracco referred to her 5-year-old patient as he walked robot-like across the room in mid-February.

She beamed with pride—and counted—as she watched little Juan Ramirez laboring through 20 steps. He took a quick step with his left foot. His right foot hung behind, anchoring his body, affected by cerebral palsy. Suddenly, he heaved the right foot in a stomp. He hesitated as he recovered his balance, but a smile revealed his thoughts.

Juan’s steps, though awkward, are quite a leap from just a few months ago. “He was sitting, sitting, sitting,’’ said Deb, who began working with Juan in the fall, after his orthopedic surgery. Before, he used a walker for balance. “His legs just dragged along behind him,’’ said Deb.

She began working intensively with Juan in after orthopedic surgery corrected some deformities and gave him better alignment in his legs. They met for three hours of hard work each day as part of his inpatient recovery and rehabilitation. During one of his last sessions a few months later, Juan delighted his team with two huge firsts: a string of unassisted steps and several strokes in the hospital’s therapeutic pool. All this in one day.

Deb said they’d been working in the rehabilitation gym and the therapeutic pool for weeks to get Juan’s legs moving. But when it all came together at once, everyone was shocked. She called the miraculously timed progress “a complete rarity.”

Mom Guadalupe called it a bond.

Deb gives Juan confidence, Guadalupe said. And that confidence has pushed him forward, enabling the preschooler to progress in other ways—for example, trading his diapers for underpants.

“We owe her a lot,’’ said Guadalupe. “He walks by himself now. He goes to the bathroom alone. Before, he would have accidents because of the walker.”

Still, Deb said Juan’s therapists would like to enhance strength in his legs to give him a more natural gait. Juan now visits La Rabida twice weekly as an outpatient to meet with Deb and other specialists. During a recent physical therapy session, Juan prepared a pickle pizza topped with floppy, colorful veggies.

As “Chef Juan” dropped rubber pickles and plastic cheese during a recent session, Deb told him, “Ooh, you need to pick that up.’’ The bending and standing build strength in Juan’s quadriceps.

In the therapeutic pool, Deb has brought another love to the surface. Once hesitant, Juan now freely jumps in and splashes about.

“He moves his legs, his arms. He goes underwater,’’ said Guadalupe. “Last summer, we would go to the beach a lot, but he wouldn’t go in because he was scared. He would just sit there.’’

Fear is no longer an option.

To learn more about La Rabida’s inpatient and outpatient services, call 773.753.8625

[Back to patient stories]