The Children's Institute Blog

Learning To Walk All Over Again

Posted: Sep 21, 2017 by The Children's Institute

“Noah, it looks good. The harness is in the perfect spot.”

Noah R. Torok stands up from his electric wheelchair on a conveyor belt with the aid of a blue and black harness wrapped tightly around his waist and shoulders, as three clinicians start the process of teaching his body how to walk again. He hasn’t taken a step on his own in more than 15 months.

“That was three or four steps in there where I got really good response,” said physical therapist Laura Fedoronko, manually moving Noah’s right leg into a steady pace. “Part of the locomotor training is to get him to activate. Hopefully, the goal is he’ll initiate.”

“I just felt something in my muscle,” Noah replied.

It’s been a long road for the McKeesport teen, who is being featured today as part of September’s National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. In May 2016, he suddenly lost feeling in the left side of his body. By the time he was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, he couldn’t breathe on his own anymore.

A four-hour MRI revealed a chiari malformation, where the brain develops or is pushed down below the skull into the spinal column. His brain stem was putting pressure on his spinal cord, which led to paralysis and the build-up of fluid in pockets of his spinal cord. Doctors in Pittsburgh said they never had seen such a severe case.

“They said he would never move again,” Noah’s mother, Kim, said. “When we got to The Children’s Institute, that all changed. Slowly, he started getting more movement.”

Noah is in the second week of a seven-week locomotor training program at The Children’s Institute, where, three times each week, a group of clinicians physically move his limbs to teach him how to walk again.

“What we’re trying to do is stimulate the nervous system,” said physical therapist Katie Shroyer, who oversees the LT program. “We’re trying to promote a typical walking pattern for our kids.”

Katie will be the first one to tell you, though, that the ultimate goal of LT isn’t always just walking. If caretakers can get a patient to center their head or the trunk of their body better with less physical assistance, that’s an improvement. What if it takes two people to help get a patient out of bed?

“If we get it down to one person, that’s a huge change,” she said.

Noah’s short-term goal is simple: his mother said he wants to ride in the front seat of a car instead of in the back of a handicapped-accessible van in his wheelchair.

“Long term? He wants to see if he can walk again,” Kim said. “Nobody can say. Can he do this in a year or two? They can’t predict it. I do want the best for him. I want him to improve the most he can. And we’ll take it day by day.”

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