The Children's Institute Blog

Reaching Goals Through Occupational Therapy: Nia's Story

Posted: May 02, 2017 by The Children's Institute


Nia Holyfield went through some complicated emotions when meningitis left her paralyzed from the neck down at age 17 in 2012. For one, she was mad.

“I was pretty hostile back then. I wasn’t used to all the dependency. I didn’t like being dependent on people,” she said.

What a difference a few years can make.

Now 21, Nia is working on getting around with a walker, fine-tuning her balance, and attending Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in hopes that she can one day become a nurse and give back.

“I know I went through a lot of stuff and I can help parents understand from my point-of-view,” Nia said. “I’m kind of open to everything right now but I do kind of want to work in a NICU [neonatal intensive care unit].”

“This changed me, made me more wise, made me better. It helped me grow as a person,” she added. “Sometimes, I can't do things a typical 21-year-old can do. But, in a lot of ways, I’m doing things most 21-year-olds aren’t doing.”


Right now, Nia’s goals are aimed at transitioning her toward adulthood and self-sufficiency, occupational therapist Kaitlyn Goerl said. They’re working on typing, working on reaching grocery-store shelves from a powerchair, and even refining upper-arm strength so Nia can play basketball.

“Originally, occupational therapists were just moving her arms for her,” Kaitlyn said. “Now, we’re taking strength and endurance training and setting that to tasks. We’re trying to find community ways to work on those goals. One way is through investigating the pre-work skills she will need to be successful. We also discuss the importance of self-advocacy so that she understands her rights during the whole application and interview process as an individual with a disability.”

Nia, for one, thinks she’s ready for the challenge. She’s been through the rounds before.

“I was only 17 [when I got meningitis],” she said. “I grew up real fast at one point.”


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