22 October 2010

Understanding hypertonic cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a catchall term used to describe a wide variety of symptoms originating in the brain. The brain is the information centre of the nervous system, which governs the entire body. Therefore, once it is affected it ultimately impacts a person’s daily life functions.

When a child is diagnosed, please keep in mind that it does not set anything for your child’s future. The diagnosis involves just a general idea of what symptoms may arise. However, there are many factors which have to be taken into account for each individual. For example, even the most minor cerebral palsy can become severe if treated improperly or not at all. As well, a child’s personality has a great impact on his condition. Therefore, one child’s cerebral palsy will differ from another. The prognosis for a child with cerebral palsy will also depend on how early the disorder is detected. The younger the child is, the more likely he will be able to create alternative pathways in his brain. In some cases, with appropriate treatment, the child will be able to walk away from his cerebral palsy completely.

Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy is a condition where all the muscles in the body become tense. A child with this condition will appear “stiff.” Muscle tone is something that is present in every person. However, when a child’s nervous system is affected, it sends abnormal impulses to his muscles. As a result, the muscles contract / become spastic. The condition of a child’s hands and legs (extremities) usually follow the trunk. The trunk is king—or in other words, the center of the body. Once affected, it starts a snowballing effect on the rest of a child’s physique: if a child cannot roll from side to side, the tone in the trunk will increase (i.e. become hyper tone). This leads to increased tone in the hands and legs, which ultimately hinders a child’s daily function.

To reduce or normalize tone, a child has to be taught how to move and function in a proper way. This is learning and not rehabilitating. Rehabilitation involves regaining skills. The child never had these functions in first place—therefore, he is learning. You can compare this with learning how to drive a car. Do you remember the first time you drove? How tense you were, and how much you sweated? A child with cerebral palsy is not excluded from these feelings. The skills which he is learning are acquired skills. They were not given to him during the stages of his development. When a function becomes part of his daily interaction, he will begin to use his body and extremities in the appropriate manner. When learning to crawl for example, a child will start to put weight on his legs and hands. If he is taught to roll, he will begin to develop normal tone in his trunk. As he repeats these actions more and more, this normal, functional weight bearing will allow the tone to normalize. This will enable him to learn and perform a greater range of daily functions and movements.

Whether a child is learning to eat, use the washroom, or dress himself, these functions are necessities for daily living. They are not exercises, but practice for real-life activities. He needs to know how to do these tasks, and that is what we, as therapists, aim to achieve.

By understanding your child’s condition, his learning process and the chain reactions which occur, we will enable him to learn, grow and develop independence in his everyday life.

For more articles, visit www.enabledkids.ca.

15 October 2010

Don't wait to treat your child

Elaine, the grandmother of 3-month-old Debbie, called me regarding her granddaughter’s condition. Concerned, she described to me that Debbie was not turning her head to the right side. She did not grab things with her right hand, and did not move her right leg. In addition, when picked up by her hands, she was pulling herself back, and did not try to hold her head in an upright position.
Her daughter-in-law consulted a paediatrician, and was promptly told, “There is nothing to worry about.” But Elaine, who grew up raising four children, knew that there was something wrong.
When the child was brought to me, I saw what Elaine had been talking about: Debbie had a “clenched fist” on her right side. She disregarded her right side as a whole: she did not want to turn her head, or move her right leg or arm. When she was pulled upwards from a lying down position, she did not tip her head forward.
All these are the first signs of cerebral palsy. Unfortunately not every paediatrician or physician is able to recognize them in their early stages. Thankfully for Elaine, she discovered it in time and we were able to reverse the effects of her granddaughter’s condition.
Development isn’t something that starts after a certain age. A child develops physically and mentally starting from pregnancy. This is why it is really important to talk to your child, and make him feel that he is a part of your life even before birth. Fresh foods (preferable organic fruits and vegetables) and fresh air are the best friends of your child. Remember that he deserves the best of what you can give him.
Once the child is born he begins to discover the world. His mental development is inseparable from his physical exploration. If a child moves—he learns. His discovery comes through touch (sensory development), speech and communication, and his daily function.
But if a child does not move, or is having difficulty reaching for an object, usually his parents are the first ones to do it for him. As a result of our “help,” he does not learn to do new things. In a way, we are discovering the world in his place, when it has to be opposite: he has to discover the world for himself, and by himself. We are here just to guide and assist his learning. This way we can teach a child to make his own decisions, and to discover the world on his own.
Life takes your child through the stages of development in a certain order with one goal in mind: to prepare him for the steps ahead. If you can see that your child is having difficulties achieving these milestones, this should ring an alarm for you.
Do not rely on the opinion of others. You are the ONLY person who really knows your child. Consult multiple child experts, and conduct as much research as possible. Look for a second or even third opinion. In some cases, look into therapies and additional services that may help your child.
The earlier you start up treatment, the easier it is to deal with the difficulties your child is facing. Stay positive. As a parent, you make all the difference in his development.

For more articles like this, visit www.enabledkids.ca.

09 October 2010

Quadriplegic engineer develops program that helps disabled kids

Staff Reporter

Sometimes the littlest thing can bring the most joy.

When 32-year-old Eric Wan gently nudges his head to direct movement on a computer screen, the sound of a single note rings out. His beaming smile seems even broader.

While it may not seem like a huge achievement, it is — bringing together technology and the love of music.

The feat is all the more powerful, given the long, tough road Wan has faced since he was 18 and suffered a serious reaction to a routine measles vaccination that left him paralyzed below the shoulders and unable to breathe.

After four months in the intensive care unit, he eventually spent two years in West Park, a long-term rehabilitation hospital, learning how to live with his disability, which requires him to breathe consciously during the day and use a ventilator at night.

In June, he graduated from the University of Toronto with an engineering degree that took him 10 years to complete on a part-time basis. In September, he started a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, with a focus on how to use technology to make life better for children with disabilities.

“I was depressed for some time, but school really helped. It kept me busy,” said Wan, who is amazingly positive despite the daily challenges he faces.

He finds both solace and purpose in his work at the Pediatric Rehabilitation Intelligent Systems Multidisciplinary (PRISM) lab at Holland Bloorview hospital.

The self-described computer geek, who started computer programming at 8, has found a way to meld his fascination with computers to help children with disabilities.

One project he is especially proud of is the virtual musical instrument, which has been commercialized and the software sold in Australia and New Zealand.

“In a way, it’s a first step for me to play a musical instrument again,” said Wan, who played the violin before his paralysis.

“Many children are not able to grow up, physically able to hold a musical instrument,” he said. “We have designed a system that translates movement into music.”

The system, which operates like a Wii console but without the wand, plays a different note with the touch of every object. As he moves his head, that movement triggers an object on the screen, leading to a note.

Users can set the program to play various notes and chords. The sounds range from piano to tuba and even a church bell and a helicopter.

For Wan, his love of technology has turned out to be a natural fit because he knows first-hand how advances can make his own life easier.

When he started his undergraduate degree a decade ago, scanners were not widely available, making it difficult to read textbooks.

“I had a bookstand and a mouth stick,” he said, describing the painfully slow way he would study.

Improvements in software especially have made it easier for him to learn and communicate. He has a sticker attached to the centre of his glasses that can control the mouse and cursor on his computer. And with a textbook scanned in, he can jump from page to page.

Tom Chau, Canada Research chair in pediatric rehabilitiaton engineering, said Wan quickly impressed everyone in his lab when he arrived in 2006, especially with his amazing memory, given that he cannot take notes during a meeting.

“We were blown away,” Chau said. “He’s always been a bright light. And he’s also been very positive. He’s not one who pities himself.”

But Chau added that until Wan joined his team, they didn’t fully understand the daily challenges he faces as a quadriplegic, from housing to transportation to overall health. Or even the fact that he can’t push the button for the elevator.

On one occasion, the air conditioning was on the fritz in the lab, and the warm air was causing Wan to doze off — which is extremely dangerous because if Wan falls asleep without his respirator, he stops breathing.

“There are all these little things that you or I wouldn’t have to think twice about. The system is not set up for people like Eric to succeed,” said Chau. “It’s phenomenal what he’s gone through and to be so positive.”

08 October 2010

Stem cell therapy holds key for battling bub

BABY Emma was just hours into her life when she started suffering seizures.

Eight months later and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and stalled mental development, her hope for a better quality of life is in the hands of European scientists.

Her family is hoping to raise $35,000 to take Emma to Germany to receive the latest stem cell treatment.

Her mother Doreen Deede told The Cairns Post her daughter struggled to swallow food, play with other children and even reach for toys.

"But there's hope with the stem cell treatment - it's not a miracle cure but it will just improve things for her," she said.

"Maybe she will even be able to speak or walk."

After complications during labour, Ms Deede barely had time to hold her newborn baby before doctors rushed her away for treatment.

"She was born all floppy and was a greyish-blue colour," Ms Deede said.

"She was not able to breathe and the doctors had to resuscitate her and so, she suffered some brain damage."

Just hours after the arrival of her first child, the Cairns single mother's life was thrown into turmoil, with Emma suffering seizures throughout her first night.

"Then when she was three or four months old she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and her development is mentally delayed," Ms Deede said.

Having survived her tumultuous start, Emma now faces a new challenge to improve her future, with Ms Deede hoping to travel with her daughter to Germany next month to receive some of the latest stem cell therapy treatment.

The community has already banded behind mum and daughter to help raise the funds.

On Sunday, yoga-goers will stretch out their spines and open their wallets, performing 108 Sun Salutations at Knoff Yoga School from 7am.

In a final fundraiser, families will comb through clothes stalls, face painting and a petting zoo at a pre-loved toy sale at the Brothers Hockey Club in Calanna Park from 8am to 2pm on October 16.

While Emma's condition sees her struggle at meal times to swallow her food, play with other children or even reach for her toys, Ms Deede hopes the therapy will help her daughter gain some kind of independence as she grows older.

"I often think what kind of quality of life she will have in a wheelchair the rest of her life," she said.

"There are a lot of question marks."

At a cost of $10 those interested in participating in the 108 Sun Salutation event on Sunday can contact Joyce on 0429 322 896.

Further donations can be made by contacting The Cairns Post. Pledges will be passed on to Ms Deede.