Emily’s rehabilitation for acute flaccid myelitis

Lisa Weiland, a mom from the Milwaukee, Wis. area, spent much of November at the Chicago Shriners Hospital where her daughter Emily, is undergoing intensive rehabilitation for acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), the condition that has captured headlines for its polio-like effect on children. “We are here for the rehabilitation for Emily, the intensive, intensive rehabilitation. Because with the AFM, it affected her from her neck all the way down. She lost all that movement,” Lisa said.

For more than 90 years, the Chicago Shriners Hospital has cared for children from around the Midwest. The hospital actually began with a mission to care for patients with polio. Staff now care for children with a variety of orthopaedic conditions, cleft lip and palate, plastic surgery and rehabilitation/spinal cord injury needs. It was the rehabilitation program, along with a personal history with the Shriners Fraternity, which brought the family to Chicago from Wisconsin.

At the Chicago Shriners Hospital, during rehabilitation, Emily, a determined fourth-grader, sees physical, occupational and speech therapists. These are some of the more than 10 specialists who work with her and her family using the latest technology in rehabilitation therapy. For instance, Emily has worked on walking, even running, in a gravity-supported treadmill known as the Alter G.

The Weilands say Emily’s progress through rehabilitation has been encouraging. “When she came she was in a wheelchair. She has progressed from the wheelchair, to the walker, and we’ve said goodbye to the walker now,” Lisa said. The family is particularly grateful for the hospital’s warm water therapy pool. “That’s a great feature here, an extra benefit. Because it’s really good for her muscles to kind of relax them. She can have a lot more mobility where she’s moving her arms, her legs, her back and it’s not as exhausting.”

The Shriners Hospitals for Children family-centered approach uses activities that patients enjoy while also working towards therapy goals. Lisa appreciates how the staff communicates about what and why they are doing activities with her daughter. For instance, Emily practices blowing bubbles with Kathryn Hess, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist in the rehabilitation services department at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago. Trying to blow a giant bubble is fun for Emily but also helps work on her decreased lung function. “She was having shallow breathing (demonstrates her breathing). Blowing the bubbles is to help it be a constant, steady flow. And they are working on her communications skills so she can talk about what is happening to her,” Lisa said. 

Sue Mukherjee, M.D., a physiatrist, supervises Emily’s care. Lisa said Dr. Mukherjee and Connie Fuentes, the nurse practitioner, have been amazing. “Very much keeping us informed and always asking if we have questions … Our goal is to get her recovered … It was helpful to hear that the first six weeks is very critical from the time this happens for the muscles to activate again, to get the child into therapy.”

Emily continued inpatient rehabilitation until the Thanksgiving holiday. She is returning to the Chicago Shriners Hospital intensive outpatient therapy as well. “Thank you does not seem like enough. It is just unbelievable here. How everybody puts the kids first. And they look at us and say, ‘Can I do anything for you?’ It blows me away.”

About Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago is changing lives every day through innovative pediatric specialty care, world-class research and outstanding medical education. The Chicago Shriners Hospital provides advanced care for children with orthopaedic conditions, rehabilitation and spinal cord injury services, cleft lip and palate and pediatric plastic surgery. Shriners Hospitals for Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and relies on the generosity of donors. All donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law. To make an appointment at the Chicago Shriners Hospital or to schedule an appointment, please call 773-385-KIDS (5437).

Visit shrinerschicago.org for more information.

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