Austin’s Journey

The following is a guest post from Jenny Schmit, a physical therapist and researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who works with a client named Austin. Read the story of Austin’s personal journey from frustration to celebration below:

“I work primarily with children who have Cerebral Palsy (CP).  Through work, I have had the privilege of meeting a young man named Austin.  Austin is 17 years old and lives in Batavia, Ohio.  Images of his brain suggest that he had a stroke when he was in utero.  He has hemiparetic CP.  Austin plays the computer and watches television.  He is a teenager and like lots of them, he spends an awful lot of time sitting still.   Austin

Although the damage to Austin’s brain will not get worse, his mobility and function can continue to deteriorate. Unwelcome changes to bone, muscle, and the cardiorespiratory system can occur over time when patients with disability aren’t proactive. One of Austin’s best defenses is also a hot topic in public health today. Research suggests that decreasing the amount of time we spend being sedentary, and increasing the amount of time we spend engaged in physical activity is critical for everyone, but especially for children with CP!

At a clinic visit in April of 2014, Austin felt frustrated. Physical fitness testing at school meant running a mile, and it didn’t go well.

He seemed to be compelled to do something about it. Austin set an admirable goal; he announced that he would like to run, in its entirety, a 5K race.  He scoured the internet for his just right challenge, signed up for the Panerathon, in Mason, Ohio, which raises money to fight hunger (probably because the race includes a giveaway of free Skechers). He named the team that would support him the CP Warriors.

He worked tirelessly over the summer.  He spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with outpatient physical therapists at Cincinnati Children’s.  He strengthened legs. He grew better abdominal muscles than most of the healthcare professionals who treat him. He practiced coordinated activities like skipping and jumping.  He walked on a treadmill.  He did silly things, like moving rings from one cone to the next with his foot or kneeling on top of big therapy balls without holding on.  And he ran.  He ran around the Medical Offices Building and met the people who live in the neighborhood.  He ran up and down the big hill that the Hospital lives on and doctors and nurses clapped for him.  He ran in the August heat and sometimes in unexpected rain. Every weekend, he ran around the trail at Lunken Airfield, with a team of volunteers from the hospital and CP Clinic and people who believed in him.  He ran with a dog, and sometimes a donated iPod shuffle and Rodney Atkins.  He ran while he talked about zombies and how to beat Halo and fried pickles.  He never ran without smiling.  His Mom filled a scrapbook with photos because while he ran, she and her husband filled up with pride.

Two things happened during this journey.

One is that Austin grew.  He threw up during a mile run in physical education class.  On Sunday, September 21, he will finish the 5K faster than many individuals without physical disability.

The other is that the people around him grew.  We thank him for his inability to perceive hurdles.  We thank him for reminding us that few things are out of the realm of possibility.  And we thank him for reminding us to carry ourselves forward (unless we are practicing walking backwards).

Please share his story.

If you live near Mason, Ohio, please come to applaud him at his finish line this Sunday.

And for heaven’s sake, can someone please make sure he gets a pair of size  9 shoes?!”

New Film Features Comedian with Cerebral Palsy

A new film released on Friday features Josh Blue, a stand up comedian with cerebral palsy known for winning NBC’s Last Comic Standing competition in 2006 and subsequent comedy specials on Comedy Central and Ron White’s Salute to the Troops on CMT. Dat Phan, who also competed to be a Last Comic Standing also stars.Josh Blue

“108 Stitches” follows a baseball team with one of the longest losing streaks in college history as they come to the realization that the school, led by the corrupt and unethical President of the University, has plans to disband the entire program.  Hilarity ensues as the misfits have just one afternoon to execute a plan to fill the stadium, sign the top recruit on the planet, and help send their coach out with a bang. Josh Blue stars as an unlikely pitcher who spins wild throws in just about every direction but the batter’s.

Affiliate UCP of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties was invited to the exclusive Hollywood premiere of the film this week and got a chance to speak with Josh Blue and the producers of the film about the character.

“Josh Blue said what he most liked about the character is that he is treated equally.” said Amy Simons, Chief Development Officer of UCP of LA. “Pretty much every one in the film is made fun of and Josh’s character is no exception. He’s not singled out because of his disability.

Order your copy now through this link and the producers of “108 Stitches” will donate a portion of the proceeds to UCP to help provide services support for people with disabilities.

UCP’s STEPtember Challenge Begins Today!

10,000 Steps Daily Minimum

 

2,000 participants across the U.S.       are taking 10,000 steps a day from September 3-30                 in support of UCP.

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is pleased to announce the launch of the third annual STEPtember fundraising event today, formerly known as the World CP Challenge. STEPtember is an international health and fitness event that aims to raise awareness and support for individuals with disabilities and their families.

From September 3-30, STEPtember participants will get active while supporting a great cause. Throughout the event, more than 5,000 teams worldwide will challenge themselves to take 10,000 steps a day. Each of the steps—or bike rides, yoga classes, or physical therapy sessions, as nearly any activity can be counted—will propel the teams up virtual mountains and track their progress. Teams can compare their fundraising and step activity against others from around the world, racing each other up the seven tallest mountains and spurring their efforts to new heights. Together, the teams will help to raise critical support for the nearly 180,000 individuals with disabilities that UCP serves each and every day.

Already, more than $115,000 has been raised in the U.S., and well over $1 million internationally through thousands of participants. 

“UCP is very excited to kick off this year’s STEPtember event! This month promises to be an incredible, worldwide effort to raise awareness and support for people with disabilities. Steptember is such a great way for anyone, regardless of ability, to get active and truly impact our organization in the process,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of UCP.

“Our family is personally affected by disability and we know first-hand what perseverance can accomplish. Joining in the STEPtember campaign, like a of Team Hoyt, a father-son racing duo who have volunteered to be UCP’s STEPtember ambassadors this year. Team Hoyt

Here’s how to get involved in the STEPtember Challenge: 

1) Learn More –  Check out the FAQ section on the STEPtember website, learn more about the communities that UCP serves, and understand how to get started!

2) Register Today – It’s not too late to get involved! Register today at www.steptember.us and we’ll connect you with a local affiliate that can provide an event packet and information to jumpstart your involvement.

 

3) Donate Now – Even if you don’t want to take the challenge and register, support the cause by donating to the UCP National team. We’re aiming to raise $10,000. Every dollar donated will provide critical funds to sustain community programming, and purchase much needed equipment for individuals with disabilities and their families.

Steptember will culminate on October 1st with World Cerebral Palsy Day, a global innovation project to change the world for people with cerebral palsy. 

UCP Chats with U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team

UCP recently spoke with Stuart Sharp, Head Coach of the U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team, and two of the team’s players, Chris Ahrens and Rene Renteria to learn more about the sport. Chatting with us fresh after a team’s practice in San Diego, California, Sharp discusses the rules of the sport, its classification system, ways people can become involved and more. Ahrens, who has cerebral palsy and Renteria, who has a traumatic brain injury, share their stories of how they became involved with Paralympic soccer, as well as discuss their training routines. Check out the full video below! If you would like to learn more, you can follow the team on Facebook and Twitter or visit http://www.ussoccer.com/paralympic-soccer.

 

Family Ties Ensure a Life Without Limits

The following is a guest post by Betsy Mays, 24 who has three older siblings including Blake (31), Lauren (30), and Jamie (26). Lauren has Cerebral Palsy. 

Mays Family at the Beach

Mays Family at the Beach

“My sister Lauren is one of my best friends and she has Cerebral Palsy. Growing up I don’t think I realized that there was anything too different about my sister. I knew that she couldn’t walk, but that didn’t stop my brothers and I from wheeling (or dragging) her around. I knew she couldn’t talk, but my family created a type of communication that worked for us; we are all REALLY good at 20 questions. I knew she couldn’t care for herself, but that’s what we were all there for!

I loved and still love being around my big sister at every waking moment. She is my audience when my parents or brothers couldn’t stand to watch one more of my performances. She is my go to person when I want to go swimming, and she is the one person in my family that knows all my secrets!

Mays Family PortraitGrowing up my mom always told my brothers and I that not everyone would always be as kind to my sister as we would hope or that people may stare at her because they simply didn’t understand what Cerebral Palsy is. So, being the outspoken little ball of joy that I was, I loved to educate my friends (and strangers who loved to stare) about my sisters condition! I would let everyone know that my sister wasn’t “crippled” but that she was just like everyone else, and she just so happened to have Cerebral Palsy.  My sister has always, and continues to, live a life without limits.

I remember when my siblings and I were little we would put her on a sleeping bag or a bean bag and pull her around the house so she could play with us. My brothers and I made sure to always include her, and my parents made sure that Lauren was involved in anything she wanted to! She was an excellent student, participated in school plays, Special Olympics, and and graduated with a regular high school diploma!

She loves to go to the beach, swim, and loves to be around the whole family. My nephews and niece are growing up around my sister and they love their Aunt LaLa. At such a young age they have learned that a person is not defined by a disability!

Now that we are all older, my sister has developed health problems that my family was not quite prepared for. We have never really needed any extra assistance because my sister’s health has never been an issue that we couldn’t handle on our own. Lauren was the person in our family that was virtually never sick! Thankfully my family is really close and we have great friends who continue to show us love and support, and my sister is tough as nails!

Mays Halloween

Halloween

I am thankful that my sister has always been treated with respect and compassion by everyone she encounters. All of my siblings have grown up to be in helping professions- go figure! Blake is a police officer, Jamie is currently in school for health promotion, and I am a social worker. We all try to be advocates for people living with disabilities and I hope that other families out there are doing their best to educate family, friends, and strangers about what it means to live with a disability. I cannot speak for everyone, but my family lives to ensure that Lauren can live a life without limits!”

Navigating the Worlds of Education and Employment with a Disability

Special guest blog post by Maureen Marshall, Electrical Engineer

 

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Having cerebral palsy (CP) definitely has its challenges and there is no denying that, but there are also so many possibilities for achievement in both education and where that education leads you down your career path.  I was diagnosed with CP at the age of 2 and, though my parents were told I may never attend regular classes in school or actually ever learn to read and write, I proved everyone wrong and successfully attended regular classes– even advanced classes because I pushed myself to prove everyone wrong and excel.  I graduated, not once but 3 times: I graduated from high school; I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Business Administration degree in Technology; and a Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

 

Believe it or not, the biggest challenge I had in school was with the teachers.  While I was in elementary and middle school, I was forced out of orchestra class because I did not hold the bow correctly and I failed typing because I did not type with both hands.  In both cases, neither teacher was willing to recognize that I physically could not do what they wanted me to do, nor even the fact that I was able to succeed through modifying the way I performed the task.  Not having full use of my right side, I held the bow with a firm grip; no pinky finger up and I typed with one hand; not both. 

As I moved through high school and college, I learned to not register for classes that would be a physical challenge for me and cause further pass/fail issues, such as gym and swimming classes.  It was not worth the fight with the school administrators to get them to accept my limitations.  Instead, I enjoyed sports with my friends, who accepted these limitations and took swimming classes on my own where there was no pass/fail criterion.  When it came to choosing a field of study in college, I recognized that I would need a career that focused on my strengths and one that I could advance in.  I always loved and did well in math and science courses, so engineering was the path I chose to take– which I have had great success. Engineering allows me to use my knowledge and experiences, with little or no physical activity. There are so many different engineering positions and fields to chose from– one can definitely find one that fits not only their strengths but their abilities.  I have also found that industry is very accommodating to those with disabilities and will make every effort to ensure all obstacles are removed.  For instance, if you chose to work in a manufacturing plant, where getting around can be difficult, they have been known to install elevators or even mark walkways to allow wheelchair accessibility.

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I’ve experienced some interesting moments from the time I graduated to now– and one I’ll never forget is my first interview!  During the middle of the interview, I had to leave the room to get a form at the request of the person interviewing me and, when I came back to the room, I landed flat on my face.  For some reason, from the time I left the room to re-entering it, someone had placed a 2×4 board across the bottom of the doorway, which I tripped over when walking back into the room.  Mortified and embarrassed, I decided to get up as quickly as possible, gain my composure, laugh (instead of cry) and simply comment, “Well, that wasn’t there before!” and move on with the interview like nothing happened.  To this day, I will never know if that was an interview tactic or a simple mistake of someone working in the office area.  However, I am happy to say I got the job and I think a lot of that had to do with how I handled that situation! 

I have never called out my disability to any potential employers or future colleagues and over the years very few have inquired, even though it is very noticeable.  What worked for me, is taking on every situation, like there is nothing limiting me, and simply ‘adjust’ as needed.  An obstacle I have to overcome on a daily basis is when I am with a group heading either to a meeting or out to lunch and they head for stairs.  I will simply let them know to meet me by the elevator or ask where I could meet them after I find the elevator.  I have to say I have been very blessed with employers and colleagues that have never called out my disability either.  Do not get me wrong, there have also been a few challenging moments throughout the years too.  

Several years back, there was an incident where I was out of the country for a business trip. While at dinner with a group of colleagues, one of them decided to call me “Crip” (a term short for cripple).  I was shocked when I heard this reference and especially from a superior.  At first, I ignored what I heard, hoping I was mistaken.  However after he repeated it several times, I quickly stated in return, “I am sorry.  Are you talking to me?  Because if you are, I do not answer to that, nor does my disability change who I am and why we are here.”  Unfortunately for him, he continued to refer to me as “Crip,” even after my request throughout the dinner.  All I could do was continue to ignore him.  I was very surprised that the others around the table never participated nor tried to stop him right then and there.  However, once we landed back home and returned to work, he was fired on the spot because they had addressed their concerns with our Human Resources Department without me knowing– taking quick care of the issue. 

I have also had bosses that have treated me differently than others, not because of my performance, but because they were not comfortable with my disability.  In cases like this, I have learned it’s best to move on and get out from under them as quickly as possible– take actions in my own hands and find a new position.

Maureen Marshall 1

In today’s day and time, if one is treating someone differently– not promoting them, holding them back from situations or otherwise– it’s their problem and not yours! 

In the end, I am very proud to state that I am witness to the fact that the professional environment for persons with disabilities has improved over the last 20 years.  More and more buildings are accessible and employers are welcoming the diversity in the workplace.  Unfortunately, there will always be those that still need to be educated on acceptance of persons with disabilities.  The good news is that we are the change agents and it is up to us to teach them that those with disabilities are very capable of being high performers.

If I were to offer advice to students with disabilities who are interested in careers in engineering and technology, it would be– do not let anyone or anything stop you! 

 

Marshall is from Royal Oak, Michigan and has been married for nearly twenty years. She has three sons and has held a career as an Electrical Engineer in the automotive and defense markets for more than twenty years.

An Open Letter to Weird Al Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic (may we call you Weird Al?),

Thanks for your catchy summer hit “Word Crimes.” We were having a lot of fun bopping to the beat of this parody of “Blurred Lines” and laughing along with your clever lyrics. That is until we reached the final chorus, where you sang “cause you write like a spastic.”

You may not be aware, but “spastic” can carry a very un-funny meaning for people born with cerebral palsy (CP) and other disabilities and their families. We understand you were poking fun at people who don’t use proper grammar by implying that they lack intelligence. There are only so many ways you can say that – “moron,” “clown,” “stupid” – so we understand you have to reach a little for more examples.

But, you should know that “spastic” is a term that describes certain aspects of CP and it has no bearing at all on a person’s intelligence. The term is far too often used to insult people with disabilities, instead of simply describing a condition. Similarly, the word “retarded” long ago moved from the realm of clinical jargon to disrespectful slang for someone with an intellectual disability. It is now rejected as being not only outdated, but also incredibly offensive. When you go on to say “get out of the gene pool, try not to drool” in your song, you are portraying people with disabilities (inaccurately) as somehow less intelligent and less valuable than other human beings.

Here are some facts about CP that you might want to know: there are 17 million people in the world who have CP; it is estimated that 1 in 323 children is born with CP (that’s a pretty big fan base); CP results when an injury to the brain occurs before, during or after birth; and CP can affect mobility, speech and other functions specific to which part of the brain was injured. While people with CP sometimes have other co-occurring disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t automatically mean that they lack intelligence (or a good grasp of the English language). And, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of your respect.

Weird Al, we hope you will take this into consideration when you’re writing. We all love a  good laugh,but not at the expense of people with disabilities and their families and friends.

Thank you,

United Cerebral Palsy 

Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2014 Shares Journey to Parenthood

Are you a person with a disability who has ever wondered whether or not you would one day become a parent? Or are you a parent or caregiver who has ever had the same question regarding your son or daughter? Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2014, Kelsey Kleimola, recently shared her story with UCP and discussed this very topic. See her story below!


by Kelsey Kleimola, Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2014

 

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From a very young age, I’d always known I wanted a family.  I fantasized about being a mother, imagining a world in which my wheelchair didn’t exist.  Not because I felt sorry for myself, or because I didn’t think parenting would be a possibility, but because I honestly didn’t think all that often about having a disability, or that it might keep me from my dreams.  To me, having a disability was as much a part of me as breathing– something I’d lived with my entire life.  I’d learned early on that I could either let it define me or let it drive me.

 I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was ten months old.  After being told, throughout many times in life, that I would never be able to do anything, and that any hope for a bright future looked grim, I worked hard to prove my naysayers wrong.  When they said I couldn’t do something, I pushed forward– and I did it.  I attended a public high school, even though I was told I’d never talk.  I was accepted into an amazing college, though I was told that would be an impossibility.  I continued to dream, despite those who were quietly whispering, “You can’t.” Always, though, my heart went back to one thing– wanting to be a mother.

Then an amazing thing happened.  Some might call it miraculous.  Right there, in the middle of my everyday life, I met my husband.  We met in an online chatroom and during the first several weeks of us talking, I was upfront and honest.  “I have cerebral palsy,” I said.  His response? “So what?” It was then that I knew, this was the man God had chosen for me.  On a snowy February day, two years after we’d first met, we got married.

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A month before our second anniversary, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.  I’d gone through a normal, healthy pregnancy.  I was elated.  My thoughts rushed back, not for the first time, to the little girl who longed for a family of her own. I was wrapped in a perfect bubble of happiness, knowing no one could burst it. But people tried.  They questioned how I would care for a baby on a daily basis.  What would happen when my son grew older and began to walk?  What if he ran away from me and into a dangerous situation?  What would I do?  How would I cope?

 But do you want to know the truth?  While everyone else was busy worrying, I was busy loving. I reveled in the sweet smell of my baby boy– the fact that I could make him laugh so easily, that I could make him happy and that I was his mommy.  I chose not to live in a world of “what ifs.” Instead, I savored the moments that I knew would pass all too quickly. I focused on what I could do as a parent, instead of the little things that I needed help with.  I could change his diapers, give him baths, feed him and snuggle him.  But most importantly, I wrapped my son in the certain knowledge that I was his mommy, and that was enough for both of us.

That was five years ago.  Since then, we’ve added a gorgeous baby girl to our family.  Neither one of my children have ever questioned why I’m in a wheelchair. This is their normal, and that’s OK.  But when the difficult days and voices creep in, once again whispering, “You can’t,” the sweet laughter of my children reminds me that I did.

 

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Kleimola is from Grand Rapids, MI and currently lives in Ypsilanti, MI with her family. She will compete at the Ms. Wheelchair America 2015 competition in Long Beach, California on August 4 – 10, 2014. Feel free to follow her on Facebook!

 

New Superhero with CP Catches Stan Lee’s Attention

A medium-skinned man with shoulder-length black hair wearing a blue "mechanized" suit of armor with green accents. He is standing on a soccer field holding his helmet  in his hands. Underneath his right foot is a flaming orange soccer ball that has caught fire

An artist’s representation of Ammon

United Cerebral Palsy recently spoke with a young man who is bursting with ideas to change the world for people with disabilities. Some of his ideas came together in the form of a comic book superhero named “Ammon” – a semi-autobiographical representation of its creator, Aaron D’Errico. Aaron is the son of pro soccer player David D’Errico and has cerebral palsy. When he was just 11 years old he won the OMSI “Science of Superheroes” drawing contest and has been working to bring Ammon to life as a narrated motion comic to encourage reading among young people.  His project is getting a lot of attention from professionals and the media. Find out more about “Ammon” and Aaron below.

What inspired you to create “Ammon?” 

Aaron D’Errico (AD): Ammon began with my mom Cynthia’s encouragement to “write my own story,” and a desire to follow in the pro soccer footsteps of my dad, David D’Errico.  He was a USA Men’s National Soccer Team Captain, and first-round draft pick for an original NASL team, The Seattle Sounders.

A superhero needs an occupation with the freedom to take action at a moment’s notice.   So playing pro soccer is a good fit, with the world travel and requirement of peak fitness. I was also thinking of Sean Connery’s James Bond who almost became a soccer player for Bonnyrigg Rose when I combined the soccer, superhero, and spy elements in the Ammon character.

Ammon’s abilities are dependent on making choices that build positive strength of character.  He’s strongest when following his bliss, aka being in a “flow state” by turning challenges into triumphs. Ammon gains ever-evolving powers somewhat based on the abilities of a dragonfly.  They’re useful in both soccer and spying – 360˚ vision and awareness, motion camouflage (appearing still when actually moving).  Much like a dragonfly, Ammon molts his disabled body.  He emerges with a perfect super-powered one.  That perfect form is my homage to my dad as an archetype of athleticism, and my Mom, who was a professional model when she was younger.

 Is Ammon somewhat semi-autobiographical?

AD: The human potential for change and improvement has fascinated me since childhood. It’s real and it’s powerful.  I learned that myself in school, going from C’s and D’s to earning almost all A’s by my senior year. Ammon too loves human potential and secretly dreams of being a soccer champion like his dad. Ammon is also inspired by his mother’s occupation in the healing arts, becoming a med student, hoping to help others have better lives, something for which I also strive. Her consistent compassion made me want to be of service to others.

What other elements of your real life do you incorporate in Ammon?

AD:  In 1996, I wrote Doctor Nora Davis at Seattle Children’s Hospital to inquire if virtual reality technology could be used to help people with cerebral palsy by re-wiring the brain to have the proper electrical signals fire. I later gave Ammon the job of a VR/augmented reality rehabilitation specialist, helping people living with CP, TBIs and spinal injuries. This is something I want to incorporate into a video game that promotes both empathy and ability. 

Tell us more about your dad. 

AD: My dad grew up in a large family in NJ where he honed his skills playing soccer.  His accomplishment despite adversity is what I admire most about him. He also gave me a love for soccer.  One of the reasons I have a passion for it is because it’s a democratic sport for people of all walks of life and ability levels.

Why did you decide to use “Ammon” to promote reading? 

AD: Comics have pictures that give clues to the accompanying words. It’s a help in learning. My mom helped me overcome the challenges of a learning disability as she read to me using with the Peabody Rebus reading program. I want to turn Ammon into a semi-animated narrated motion comic, which will have the picture-text-audio connection, when the art panels include word balloons and captions, making it a new, engaging way to experience reading with comic books, making them as useful as they are entertaining.

Tell us more about narrated motion comics – how does that work?

AD: A motion comic is a digital comics story with the familiar elements of printed comics, such as artwork panels, word balloons, captions, etc., with the added features of narration, limited movement, filmmaking techniques like cuts and dissolves, a soundtrack and sound effects.

Who is narrating “Ammon’s” story? 

AD: Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame DJ (and one-time NASL Seattle Sounders co-owner) Pat O’Day.  Pat will narrate Ammon’s story and voice different characters. It’s an honor to have his support. 

How is the project going so far?

AD: Family and friends have supported the project locally. Funding it has been a challenge. Now I’m reaching out to supporters online to realize the goal of making Ammon’s adventures into narrated motion comics by doing a fundraiser through the crowd funding site Crowdtilt.com. Also, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is currently doing a segment about funding inspiring projects called “Are You Trying to Get a Project Funded?” If anyone would like to write in to her show about my goal to make motion comics to promote reading, here’s the link.

I understand “Ammon” is getting a lot of attention. Where has the project been featured? How are people responding to your idea? 

AD: The response is enthusiastic. One TV story by sports anchor Aaron Levine and photojournalist Walker Anderson actually won an Emmy. It was also shown in USA Today Sports For The W!n.  Ammon has been featured on Paul Chadwick’s blog, and Talenthouse.com as part of a global invite to find an artist to draw the first story.  It led me to a terrific illustrator, Addison Rankin.  Other coverage includes Stan Lee’s websiteThe Bob Rivers ShowKing 5 New Day NWThe Seattle Post-IntelligencerGood News Networkthe AMS Vans BlogBJ Shea’s Geek Nation, and soon to be featured in soccer.com and The Seattle Sounders FC’s RAVE TV.

I understand you heard from Stan Lee, the great comic creator. Tell us what he thinks. 

Stan Lee

AD: I grew up idolizing Stan.  I’ve tried to apply his insights on the empowering mythology of superheroes. In 2010, I had the honor of thanking Stan for sharing his wisdom. His enthusiastic reply became a personal mantra: “I expect great things from you!

What’s next for you?

AD: After the first issue of Ammon is funded and made, I’ll flesh out more adventures to send to a publisher. From there my focus is using the proceeds from the narrated motion comics of Ammon to make virtual reality/augmented reality biofeedback video games. These games could take the idea of putting people in another’s shoes even further than a comic, by giving players a real-time sense of what it’s like to live with limitations when they play as Ammon with CP at the start of the game, before he gains his super powers. To progress in the game, players must make positive choices despite limitation/frustration, thus gaining positive experience points to increase their abilities in the game – abilities that evolve in proportion to their empathy and positive strength of character.

Other goals include being part of Duke University’s stem cell trials for adults with CP next year. I hope to combine that stem cell therapy with Duke’s brain rewiring technology from Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, in conjunction with my biofeedback VR soccer video game concept of Ammon. The goal is combining different healing methods to create something more effective, like what Bruce Lee did for martial arts, resulting in a game that makes healing and rehabilitation fun.

Where can we get more information about you and your project? 

AD: The best way to get updates is via my Facebook page, or Twitter.  As for my art, this is my portfolio page on Talenthouse.com, and this is my website.

 

 

Time to Swim! UCP’s Interview with Dr. Deborah E. Thorpe

by O’Ryan Case, UCP’s Manager of Public Education Programs

Thorpe- Headshot- 2012

 

 

Debbie Thorpe, PT, PhD
Associate Professor
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

 

 

Summer is underway! A short while ago, we talked about the importance of inclusive summer camps and, this month, we are highlighting the many benefits that swimming brings to individuals with a range of disabilities (well, all individuals to be exact!). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Deborah E. Thorpe, a physical therapist who who is an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Thorpe led Project ACT NOW (Adults with Cerebral Palsy Training to Increase Overall Wellness), which investigated the effects of aquatic exercise on fitness and participation of adults with cerebral palsy (CP). See below to check out the interview!

Interview with Dr. Deborah E. Thorpe (DT):


Thanks so much for speaking with me and sharing your expertise around aquatic exercise with our UCP audience! I’ll begin with the workout that swimming brings. I have spastic diplegic CP and, whenever, I swim, it really feels like a complete workout. Can you tell me a little more about why this is and why I feel this way?

DT: It’s because aquatic exercise is a whole-body workout. When you exercise in the water, you’re moving against resistance the entire time– and this is a lot more resistance than what is felt on land. Water applies variable resistance, so the slower you move through water, the less resistance you experience against your movements. Conversely, the faster you move through water, the more resistance you experience. When you push ten pounds worth of force through water, you’re getting ten pounds pushed against you. Every muscle group can be exercised against resistance much easier in the water than on land. Also, for individuals with muscle weakness and limited range of motion, different movements, such as abduction, can be very difficult on land. But in the water, properties like buoyancy (the upward force of the water pushing against the object that is being submerged) make these movements much easier.


You’re right. I’m able to do much more with my legs when I’m in water than when I’m on land. Can you explain water’s buoyancy a bit more?
 

DT: Water’s buoyancy affects the amount of weight bearing on your legs. When you’re in waist-deep water, your legs are only having to support 50% of your body weight. In chest-deep water, your legs are only having to support 25% of your body weight. In neck-deep water, your legs are only supporting 10% of your body weight. Moving in water is so much easier for individuals with neuromuscular challenges, such as CP. If individuals have a hard time standing, I’ll put them in chest-deep water and they can stand and many times walk with their feet flat on the bottom of the pool. Once they get stronger, we’ll move to waist-deep and then knee-level water. Then, before you know it, they’re in mid-calf water.

 

So in addition to making the movements much easier, what other kinds of benefits come with swimming and other aquatic exercises?

DT: Well, it’s a safer environment in which to try more risky movements. I can’t get all of the kids I work with to jump off a step when they’re on land. But if I ask them to jump while they’re in the water, they feel safer and safety isn’t much of an issue. I can get people to jump up and down, or stand on one leg without losing their balance, which may be very difficult on land. If they fall in the water, they will not get injured. 

I mentioned it brings a total-body workout and helps with increasing range of motion in most muscles. In chest-deep water, the hydrostatic pressure produced by the water pushes against and gives a quick stretch to your diaphragm. It works the muscles in your chest– kids with CP tend to take short breaths, which is why some have softer voices, as they’re not filling their lungs all the way up with air and have trouble pushing air out of their lungs. When water is pushing against your diaphragm and providing resistance, by breathing you’re building up its strength and increasing the ability for the lungs to expand more and, ultimately, you can take in more air; it can definitely help with breathing.

Additionally, this hydrostatic pressure pushes on organs, such as the bladder and bowels and helps these organs to better perform. What do we all do after a half hour or so of aquatic exercise? Go to the bathroom!

 

Wow, that’s a lot! Do these benefits tend to last? 

DT: Anecdotally, adults with CP and parents of children with CP have told me that they’ve seen these types of benefits last for up to 24 – 48 hours.

The hydrostatic pressure produced in the water is a natural pump. Being in water is almost like wrapping an ace bandage around your calf moderately tight. The pressure of the water pushes lactic acid (which you build up while exercising and is what makes your muscles sore) out of the muscles at a faster rate than when doing land-based exercises.

 

So just to confirm, would you say these benefits apply to individuals of all ages and with all types of disabilities?

DT: Absolutely. I’ve worked in the water with babies, as well as individuals in their 70s. And I’ve worked with individuals with CP, Down syndrome, spina bifida and more. There is no one who can’t go in the water. For someone who has a tracheostomy, more precautions need to be addressed, such as making sure water doesn’t get into the trach.  If someone has a seizure disorder, you have to make sure the seizures are controlled and monitor him or her closely.

Let me tell you about one woman with whom I have worked with in the water. She has spastic quadriplegic CP and has used a power wheelchair since she was a child. She basically has only limited movement in her hands out of water– but in neck-deep water, I have seen her running!

 

That is incredible. Another thing about swimming that I’d point out is that it’s something people of all abilities can enjoy– it’s fun! Can you talk a little bit about that? 

DT: It also brings so many psychological benefits. I put all kids, no matter what their ability level is, in the water together. It’s amazing to watch them play basketball in the pool. Water “levels the playing field” and they all have a lot of fun. So in addition to the physiological and safety advantages, there are psychological ones involved as well.

Take kids who want to play t-ball. We play in the water! With the water resisting their movements and them having to fight the currents that are created in a pool from people moving around, the core is being strengthened. So you not only get stronger, but your balance improves.

 

What kind of timetable do you see with these types of results? 

DT: Everyone is different, so it all depends on the person and their abilities. But I’ll give you an example. I worked with a twenty-one year old man with spastic diplegic CP, who was an assistant head coach for his college’s baseball team. He told me he was always tired and that he wanted to gain strength so that he could do fun things after class and baseball events (just like every other college student). His upper body was very strong but his legs were very weak and atrophied. He came into my program and we worked for 45 minutes, three days per week for ten weeks. At the end of those ten weeks, I measured his function– he gained 200% in strength in both of his legs! Also, he was able to walk around the living room for the first time without using his forearm crutches! 

I also did a study with adults, where we worked three times per week for twelve weeks. Results indicated a trend toward improving their bone-mineral density. I can’t say this was directly a result of  aquatic exercise but they were definitely increasing their strength. The ones who walked were walking further and faster– and the water seemed to be the catalyst. Unfortunately, at a six-month follow-up assessment, a majority of their assessment measures were back to their baseline. Only a few had joined a facility where they could exercise in the water.  When they were in the study, they were provided with a pool membership for the course of the study and had camaraderie during their exercise sessions and tons of support. When the study ended, those supports went away.

 

I can say that having a chance to interact and train with other individuals who have disabilities would be fun and bring a sense of comfort. It’s certainly different when I may be the only person in the water or at a gym with a disability.

DT: I understand. I’ve been researching these types of barriers. Cost is a major barrier– a pool or gym membership that costs $35 per month is tough. Transportation is a barrier. And feeling like no one at a pool or gym knows what you can and cannot do is another barrier to exercise. Let me point out that there are personal trainers out there who are American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)- certified in working with individuals with chronic disabilities. These trainers will likely have at least some familiarity working with individuals with disabilities– so that would be something for individuals and families to consider is to check with exercise facilities to see if any of their staff has this certification.

 

All of this information is helpful. What would you tell an individual with a disability or a family member who wants to know ways to become involved with aquatic exercise  or aquatic therapy?

DT: First, I’d suggest getting a physical therapy evaluation. Get a prescription for an aquatic therapy evaluation from your primary care provider. The physical therapist will evaluate the individual on land and tell them the areas needing improvement (i.e. strengthening, flexibility, cardiorespiratory conditioning, etc). Insurance should pay for the physical therapy evaluation. After this evaluation, the therapist will then take the individual in the water and develop an aquatic exercise/therapy program for them. Note that aquatic exercise and aquatic therapy are different. You have to have a doctors prescription to get aquatic therapy but, with aquatic exercise, you can go to any pool and exercise in the water. Also, a  good resource to check out is the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD). There are a lot of exercise videos on its website.

 

So, as we wrap up, do you have any other closing remarks that you would like to share? 

DT: To the parents and caregivers that UCP serves, I would say get your children comfortable in the water. Parents can get very apprehensive about putting their children in the water– but consider enrolling them in swimming lessons. Remember, there are safe flotation devices out there. I would also suggest finding a physical or occupational therapist who does aquatic therapy and can do an evaluation and come up with an individualized program. Finally, remember that a big factor with swimming is its social aspect. Kids can become bored with physical therapy but aquatic exercise and swimming can happen anywhere– like we said earlier, it’s fun! I’m a huge proponent in getting involved in community-based physical activity. I want individuals of all abilities to go out and participate with their peers.

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It was such a pleasure learning more about the types of physiological, psychological and other benefits that come with aquatic exercise. Dr. Thorpe was also kind enough to share this video of someone she has worked with. 

 

If you would like to learn more about aquatic therapy, you can contact Dr. Thorpe at dthorpe@med.unc.edu or me at ocase@ucp.org.