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news item News Monday, April 2, 2018 Monday, April 2, 2018 2:16 PM - Monday, April 2, 2018 2:16 PM

Spinal cord injury doesn't limit Julia's potential

With recent visit to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital, Julia becomes more independent

Four-year-old Julia returned to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia for another intense bout of physical therapy in March. After waking up one morning in October 2015, Julia was unable to move due to a blood clot that pressed against her spinal cord, causing paralysis from the waist down.

Not satisfied with their options in their native British Columbia, Canada, Julia’s parents Melissa and Ryan were referred to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital for our intensive rehabilitation program for pediatric spinal cord injuries. Since their first visit in 2016, Julia has gained the ability to transfer herself from her wheelchair, or bike as Julia calls it, into and out of bed.

During her most recent visit, Julia continued to work on movements that will give her more independence at home and activate more muscles that will allow her to walk using a walker and leg braces. During a physical therapy session, Julia’s physical therapist Marci set up toy ponies along the railings of the hospital’s hallways for Julia to collect.

“I’m coming,” said Julia, using a walker and KAFOs (knee ankle foot orthotics). “But first, I need a bite of cake.”

“She’s very food motivated,” said Melissa. Melissa and Ryan often bring treats for Julia to help encourage her during her therapy sessions.

Julia keeps a consistent therapy schedule at home, implemented mostly by Melissa. “At home I’m the therapist and it’s all because of what I’ve learned coming to Shriners and also Kennedy Krieger,” said Melissa. “Our local therapists aren’t as familiar with spinal cord injuries so we work together, but I am quick to share my U.S. techniques.”

Julia during one of her therapy sessions for spinal cord injuryFor Melissa, their visits to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital are more than just encouraging for Julia. “There’s some validation for what we do at home,” said Melissa. “During our first therapy session, Marci was so impressed with the progress Julia has made since her last visit.”

For this month’s therapy, hospital staff modified Julia’s leg braces so she has to activate her hip flexors and work harder to remain upright and mobile.

Though Julia is active at home between visits to the hospital, her therapists are able to assess her abilities and challenges to develop new programs to help her continue to progress. “We could keep doing what we usually do at home,” said Melissa, “but I don’t know how to challenge her. That’s why it’s so important to come see the professionals every few months.”

In addition to physical therapy, Julia’s parents are hoping she will continue to gain independence. Right now, they focus on dressing. Now that Julia is able to put on her own shirts, occupational therapist Jaclyn works to give Julia the ability put on pants and socks by herself.

“We’re lucky,” said Melissa. “Julia has no other medical complications, so we really only have one focus. But, there just isn’t the knowledge of pediatric spinal cord injuries on the West Coast. And I feel so grateful to have found such an amazing team here in the U.S. to give Julia the very best chance at recovery.”

Julia and her parents receive help and support for their travels through their government services, as well as the Gizeh Shriners of British Columbia and Yukon.

Read about Julia’s previous visit to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital in July 2017. Also, Melissa documents Julia’s medical journey on the Facebook page Please Help Julia Walk Again.