12 June 2010

Equipment helps children walk independently

New equipment donated to Adventist Paulson Pediatric Rehabilitation Center is helping children with physical limitations improve their quality of life. The universal exercise unit, a device used to help children learn to walk independently, is expected to benefit countless children with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders.

Four-year-old Owen Chaidez, the first patient to use the technology, already has made remarkable progress improving his limited range of motion; the Downers Grove boy cannot walk due to arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a disorder characterized by reduced mobility of multiple joints. Owen's arms and legs have limited range of motion and he has undergone therapy at Adventist Paulson Pediatric Rehab since he was two weeks old.

"Physically, he's gained so much range of motion in just a few weeks," said Maggie Chaidez, Owen's mom. "But the emotional gains have been just as incredible. Instead of rolling on the floor to get where he needs, now he wants to walk all the time. He's becoming more independent. Between visits to Paulson, he constantly asks when we're going back there."

By increasing strength and range of motion, isolating the weakened muscle groups, and eliminating gravitational forces on the weak muscles, the exercise unit improves balance and coordination, promotes motor skills and enhances a child's self-confidence. The design concept is based on technology originally invented to counteract the negative effects, such as muscle atrophy and osteoporosis, experienced by astronauts due to lack of gravity. The unit counteracts the force of gravity that prevents weakened muscles from performing.

The unit is used in two different ways. First, a treatment bed or chair is used with a system of pulleys and suspensions with the primary goal of improving strength, active range of motion, and muscle flexibility. Alternatively, a suspension system used with a belt and elastic cords (dubbed the "spider cage" by the pediatric patients who use it) helps children achieve gains in balance, coordination and function. The child wears a belt hooked into bungee cords that suspend and support the child in the middle of the cage. This provides just the right amount of support needed to allow the patient to perform exercises virtually independently, which aids sitting, crawling, standing, walking, climbing and jumping.

Because children with neurological disorders often lack muscle tone, coordination, strength and balance, they often try to perform a specific movement using their upper and lower extremities simultaneously. The UEU, along with specific exercises performed in it, allows the therapist to re-train the child to isolate one extremity from the other and move it independently, helping develop a normal gait and, eventually, learn to walk on their own.

"This equipment has allowed us to do intensive therapy with Owen," said his physical therapist, Carrie Crozier-Arena. "It's a huge help to me because it supports him, freeing me to concentrate on his individual muscle movements instead of having to hold him in place and work his muscles at the same time."

The equipment was donated to the rehab center by the Burr Ridge-based The Lazzara Family Foundation, founded by Philip and Antoinette Lazzara in 1984 to support nonprofit organizations in the areas of education, health care, and human services. The foundation donated $6,150 for the equipment, accessories and employee training.

"We are pleased to support the amazing children who rely on Adventist Paulson Pediatric Rehabilitation Center and its dedicated team of therapists through our grant program," said Jack Lazzara, on behalf of The Lazzara Family Foundation. "We believe it's important to invest in our local communities to provide opportunities for improving the lives of others and we're delighted that Owen and his friends are benefiting so greatly from this new equipment."

Hinsdale Hospital Foundation is seeking another $10,000 for additional training and specialized full-body suits used in conjunction with the unit in order to expand its use to bigger children who need to wear larger size suspension suits.

"We're extremely grateful to The Lazzara Family Foundation for their generosity," said Susan King, executive director of the Hinsdale Hospital Foundation. "Our hope is that their seed grant will inspire additional donations allowing us to serve even more children in our community."

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