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News Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Julia steps closer to independence

Three-year-old increases her strength with rehabilitation

Julia woke up one morning in October 2015, unable to move. She was just 18 months old. After several days of testing and exploration, doctors in her native home of British Columbia, Canada, were able to determine that Julia developed a blood clot that pressed against her spinal cord, causing paralysis from the waist down.

“So many doctors on the West Coast told me this was permanent – that she would never walk again. They told me ‘here’s a wheelchair and get used to a new life,’” said Melissa, Julia’s mom. Unsatisfied with their prognosis, Melissa researched other options and found Shriners Hospitals for Children. “The staff’s positive attitude is a big reason why we love it here. It’s such a change from what we heard back home.” 

Julia and her family were referred to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital by the Sacramento Shriners Hospital, citing our intensive rehabilitation program for pediatric spinal cord injuries, as Julia’s best option. Julia’s first visit to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital was in August 2016. 

Julia wrapped up her third stay at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia last month with another intense bout of therapy. Her team of doctors and physical therapists, along with her mom, worked towards giving Julia the movements needed to transfer her from her wheelchair – or bike, as Julia calls it – into bed or onto a table, which will give her more independence at home.

Therapy for Julia included walking with the help of the TheraStride, a body-weight support treadmill system that helps the nervous system recover its motor learning ability. She also took advantage of functional electrical stimulation (FES) cycling in the hospital’s physical therapy gym. But for Julia, therapy doesn’t seem like work, as she watches episodes of her favorite TV shows, Peppa Pig and Peter Rabbit during the sessions.

“With all her activity-based therapy, her hip flexors are activated, her core strength is improved,” says Melissa. “Julia could never move her legs before, but now she moves them all the time. We just aren’t sure what those movements mean yet.”  Melissa hopes that Julia will be able to walk independently soon with help from a walker and her orthotics. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ with Julia, it’s just a matter of when.”

“Look at me,” Julia says to passersby she meets in the halls of Shriners Hospital. “I’ve been walking lots! I’m doing very well!”

Melissa documents Julia’s journey on her Facebook page “Please Help Julia Walk Again.” 

Julia 'walks' down the hall and someone is playing peek-a-boo