Ellie's Story: Cerebral Palsy
Today Ellie is an on-the-go middle-schooler who loves swimming, reading, riding her scooter and playing softball. But at one time it wasn’t quite as easy for Ellie to be so active. Because she was born prematurely at 26 weeks, Ellie needed physical therapy as an infant. When she was about 18 months old, her physical therapist noticed that the muscles on her left side weren’t as strong as the muscles on her right side. The physical therapist referred Ellie and her parents to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare to address this concern. At Gillette, pediatric rehabilitation medicine specialist Marshall Taniguchi, M.D., evaluated Ellie and diagnosed her with a form of cerebral palsy—called spastic hemiplegia—that affects one side of the body.
At 2, Ellie began to receive treatments at Gillette for the spasticity, or muscle tightness, cerebral palsy was causing in her left leg. The initial treatments included a series of casts and botulinum toxin injections. The casts helped to gradually lengthen and stretch her contracted muscles and achieve a greater range of motion, while the botulinum toxin injections helped relax the muscles in her leg. After the casts, Ellie wore a brace on her leg to help it align correctly with her body.
When Ellie was 9, she underwent a major orthopedic procedure called a single-event multilevel surgery (or SEMLS) to further improve her walking ability and range of motion. But first, working with orthopedic surgeon Michael Healy, M.D., Ellie received a spasticity evaluation and gait analysis at Gillette’s James R. Gage Center for Gait and Motion Analysis. The evaluation and gait analysis showed Healy exactly how Ellie walked and helped him decide which type of surgery would best help her. For Ellie, this meant a procedure to turn her tibia (the large bone in her lower leg) and another to lengthen a muscle in her leg. Because of the gait analysis, both procedures could be completed at the same time, meaning one less time in the operating room and a faster recovery for Ellie.
Before surgery, Healy thoroughly explained the procedure and recovery process to Ellie and her parents. Child life specialists also helped Ellie feel more relaxed and prepare emotionally for what to expect during her operation. They provided a guided hospital tour, and they played games and watched movies with Ellie. In addition, her parents say they found comfort in the Ronald McDonald Family Room during her stay at Gillette.
“The technology in the gait lab was amazing.” — Ellie’s parents, Lori and Greg
Ellie recovered quickly after surgery. In a mere three days she was released from Gillette to complete her recovery at home. For the next six weeks, Ellie needed to avoid putting any weight on her left leg. Soon, she began to use a wheelchair and then, gradually, started to use a walker. She received another series of casts to support the bone during recovery. Finally, after the last series of casts was removed, she began using a walking boot.
Meanwhile, Ellie received frequent follow-up care at Gillette to ensure she was healing successfully. She also participated in regular physical therapy and occupational therapy to improve her motor skills, strength, balance and mobility. Today, as part of her continued care plan, Ellie attends physical therapy each week.
“Gillette makes you feel right at home. What they do for the entire family is incredible.” — Lori and Greg
Life After Surgery
Ellie remembers when kids mocked her because of the way she walked. She also remembers when she couldn’t balance without holding someone’s hand. But thanks to treatments she’s received at Gillette, those days are mostly over and she continues to make progress every day.
“Ellie can overcome any challenges she has with her other assets and abilities. We always have to tell her to slow down!” — Lori and Greg
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