The Children's Institute Blog

Pascal Completes the Intensity Program During Spina Bifida Awareness Month

Posted: Oct 25, 2019 by The Children's Institute


Pascal on tricycle, smiling
Born with Spina Bifida

“My husband and I were so excited at our 20 week ultrasound to find out the gender of our baby. Our world was rocked when the technician said, ‘Your child has Spina Bifida. It is a birth defect in which the spine does not fully close when developing. Your child will probably not be able to walk and it looks as though he will need a shunt.’ She continued on with more potential issues and a grim outlook on his diagnosis,” said Emily Gasse of Pittsburgh.

Pascal with his mother Emily “We found hope at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. After extensive testing, it was determined that we qualified for fetal surgery. Closing the lesion before the baby is born prevents further damage to the spine, allows the baby to heal before birth, and has also proven to eliminate the need for a shunt. This is the option we chose, and even though there is no cure for Spina Bifida, the surgery seemed to save some of the function that otherwise might have been lost. We were also fortunate to avoid the need for a shunt. Our beautiful baby boy, Pascal, was born happy and healthy! We weren’t sure yet if he would walk, but we loved watching him kick his legs!” said Emily of her happy boy who now loves to play with cars and Mickey Mouse.


The Power of Play

Pascal reaches for toy plane from Therapist Ellen
Since birth, Pascal has had weekly physical therapy sessions – along with occupational therapy and speech language therapy – and has made huge strides in his development thanks to his therapists at The Children’s Institute and the power of play. But it was through the Intensity Program at The Children’s Institute that Pascal and his family really saw a huge boost in his progress.

“A lot of it has to do with the child’s personality and incorporating play into the therapy – that’s a big one,” said Ellen Yeager, PT. “For Pascal, a lot of it is play. He loves cars, bubbles, that sort of thing – but he’s got a lot of self-motivation. Mom pushed him very hard and one of her goals was for him just to be upright. One of our goals before we even got into the Intensity Program was getting him to want to walk. He had only known being on the floor or being carried,” said Pascal’s main Physical Therapist Ellen Yeager, PT, MPT, PCS.

Pascal with Therapist Janice
“With each child, we have to find out what they are motivated by and once we figure that out, we can progress,” said Janice Belt, PT, MPT who began working with Pascal when he started the Intensity Program. “I knew he would be a perfect fit for the Intensity Program. He was at the verge of gaining improved skills and I knew with the strength and repetition that our program offers, we would be able to progress him to that next developmental level.”

“Inchstones” and Milestones

Pascal walks unassisted with his walker while therapists smile The Intensity Program focuses on intensive strengthening. By targeting two or three small, achievable goals, progress can be made quickly as the child continues to gain strength. During the process, therapists like to remind parents that every bit of progress is positive.

“We think of it more like ‘inchstones’ instead of milestones. It’s those little things. Maybe it’s not necessarily that a child takes their first steps, but took their first steps with a walker. Pascal took his first steps with a walker and that was huge! For a lot of these families who aren’t able to celebrate a typical developmental milestone pattern, I think it’s important to recognize the inchstones and celebrate that during our sessions,” said Ellen.

Amazing Progress

Now 2.5 years old, Pascal recently became very motivated to walk. Through the Intensity Program, Pascal received daily physical and occupational therapy for three weeks.

“The progress he has made in such a short amount of time is incredible. We have gone from placing his feet for him, to measuring the distance he walked in feet, to losing track of how far he has gone as he searches the halls for birthday cakes and Buzz Lightyear!” said Emily. “He has also learned how to ride a tricycle all by himself. He is so proud and the smile never leaves his face as he explores with his new found independence.”

Pascal gets ready to blow out candles of toy birthday cake
Janice noted that Pascal progressed from walking with his walker with assistance, to walking 20 feet by himself. He then progressed to propelling an adaptive tricycle 400 feet!

“I don’t think you can minimize how much parents like Pascal’s parents really make a difference. We kind of guide them, but they put the time into it and they are the ones who really do all the stuff at home. We are only seeing them a few hours a week, so it’s the parents that really carry it over,” said Ellen.

“We absolutely love all of the therapists who have worked with Pascal at The Children’s Institute (PT, OT, and Speech) and we are forever thankful to them for being some of Pascal’s biggest cheerleaders. When I thank them at the end of every session, I hope they understand everything that is built into those two words (thank you…for being patient and supportive, giving us hope, proving that anything is possible, never setting limits on his abilities, celebrating every big and small milestone, caring about Pascal and his interests, making his sessions play-based and fun, and providing us with education and resources so he can thrive.) You truly are the best and the reason Pascal is defying the odds!”

Pascal in the Universal Exercise Unit (UEU)
To learn more about our Intensity Program or schedule an appointment, call 412-420-2362.


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