21 August 2008

Clever cerebral palsy treatment gets kids back on their feet

Children with cerebral palsy at a specialist center in Shanghai get intensive treatment that combines Chinese and Western methods. The program is developed by Shanghai women Lu Shunling and works with children as young as one year old.

AN inventive treatment method - devised by a Shanghai woman and combining some of the best ideas from China and abroad - is helping to get young cerebral palsy sufferers moving towards a better life, writes Sam Riley.A unique program using traditional Chinese medicine and massage is giving young cerebral palsy sufferers a chance to lead an independent life.Developed by Lu Shunling - who has battled the debilitating disorder that leaves sufferers unable to control their muscles and movement - the program has had a dramatic effect, allowing once bedridden children to lead relatively normal lives.

The program at the CereCare Wellness Center for Children in Shanghai's Xuhui District involves regular acupressure massage and was developed by the 70-year-old Lu when she was a young woman after conventional treatment for CP had failed.Acupressure is an ancient form of healing similar to acupuncture but where no needles are used.Lu's sister Iris Sung, a director at the center, says Lu found the acupressure massage and traditional Chinese medicine worked very well on her, so she learned and adapted a treatment program to help other CP sufferers."They didn't know my sister had cerebral palsy until she was 18 and she underwent all types of very painful treatment. But she found acupressure to be the best," Sung says. "Seven acupressurists became her teachers and she learned the best from everyone.

Then she developed her own style and program of acupressure which is really effective."The treatment, along with an education program that involves rehabilitation, aims to loosen the joints and muscles, allowing children to better control their movements.The CereCare Wellness Center treats 32 children between the ages of one and 12. In addition to physical therapies, the center also provides basic education classes with the aim that the children will eventually be at the stage where they can attend a normal school.Cerebral palsy is one of the most common childhood disorders that is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually during fetal development, or before the child is three years of age. The damage to areas in the brain governing movement disrupts the brain's ability to control movement and posture.

Many CP sufferers do not suffer a mental disability and with early physical rehabilitation can go on to live normal lives."Some of the children we have at our center are very smart so it is important they receive the right early treatment so they can go to a normal school and fulfill their potential," Sung says.The earlier a child with CP receives regular rehabilitation, the better their prospects of being self sufficient, she says.The children live at the center full-time so they can undergo consistent and intense rehabilitation which includes three sessions a week of acupressure massage.

The aim of the massage is to relax the children so acupuncture needles are not used and instead the therapist applies pressure to points that coincide with major organs in the body."Our purpose is to relax them so we just use acupressure and we sing, talk and tell them stories so they are not scared," Sung says."If a child has CP, the internal organs must also be very tight and not functioning properly. So for the first couple of months we focus on fixing the internal organs through the massage. "This improves their appetite, allows them to absorb nutrition and build their muscles and then we work on their rehabilitation."The children also receive what is known as "conductive education," using a process of basic classes and physical rehabilitation developed in Hungary.The combination of TCM and massage program and the Hungarian rehabilitation system has been so successful that some former students at the center now work there as therapists helping the next generation of children with CP.

Sung says the center is the last hope for many parents who mistakenly believed there was nothing that could be done for their child.The center is a non-profit organization but the cost of full-time care for a child is approximately 3,000 yuan (US$437) per semester. With many parents unable to meet the full cost, Sung says sponsorship is vital.Sponsors can directly sponsor a child and the center has held a number of events where sponsors can meet their child and see their progress. Last week the center held a yoga workshop with the children, at Y+ Yoga Center in Xintiandi. The event was designed to raise awareness of CP as well as provide therapeutic benefits for the children, with yoga and stretching helping to relax their muscles.This week the center also held a sports day where children with CP partnered with an able-bodied child to compete in a range of events.

Sung says the center is always looking for volunteers to assist in a range of day-to-day activities.Mette Strand is a Norwegian medical student who has spent six months volunteering at the center.The 19-year-old says she started helping with simple tasks such as helping with feeding but once she was better trained, she began teaching basic classes, including English."When I arrived I was working with some children who could not stand, and to see them take their first steps and now to see them walking is fantastic. Their progress is very inspiring," she says.

For more information on CereCare Wellness Center call 5349-4313, ext 26 (Chinese only) or email the center via its Website at www.cerecare.net.

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