One Giant Leap for Sol-kind

This morning, we packed up a small 3 bedroom condo in beautiful Belleair Beach, Florida, buckled the kids into the car, and headed into our final day of Therasuit Intensive Therapy at Lamperts Therapy Group. For the past three weeks, Solly has been working his tail off three hours a day, five days a week. Therasuit is very similar to the intensive therapy we did back in July, except this round was much longer, much more intense, and very regimented.

​Every day, therapy began at exactly 9am. For the first hour, Solly started out laying on a table, where Gina, his physical therapist, would apply heating pads to his legs and hips. She’d stretch out each limb, paying super close attention to his legs, hips, and right arm since that’s where he tends to get the tightest. She would then move Solly through a series of table exercises where she’d attach a small weight via a pulley system to his leg or arm and, by lightly tapping him, encourage him to move his limb in a certain way. 

Workin’ those glutes!


After his stretching and lifting exercises, Solly would either work on walking or on core and arm strength for the remaining two hours. Both of these activities were done with Sol wearing a therasuit, which is a compression garment and a series of rubber strips placed to bring awareness to specific areas of the body. For core and arm strength, she’d move him to the floor to work through sitting, side sitting, tall kneeling, quad position, or sit-to-stands. Walking was done either in a gait trainer or on the treadmill.

Hands and knees – not our favorite


The entire three hour session was tiring for Sol. We made sure to take several breaks for hugs and snacks, but, in true Solly fashion, much of the session was completed with a smile on his face. 

Jumping!


Results from this intensive therapy can continue to be seen for weeks after completion, but here’s what we noticed so far:

  • Perhaps most excitingly, Solly took his first-ever unassisted steps in a gait trainer!
  • When Sol walks, his legs tend to scissor due to high tone. Part of teaching him how to walk includes proper foot placement to avoid scissoring. Over the final days of the therapy, it seemed that he became much more aware of where his body is in space. We noticed that his foot placement improved drastically, so much so that he could keep his legs from scissoring while walking in the gait trainer.
  • Improved core strength altogether, including arms!

First unassisted steps in a gait trainer


While these gains may seem like itsy bitsy baby steps, being able to walk in a gait trainer on his own is a HUGE gain towards independence. We’re excited to head home, continue the home program that Gina prepared for us, and allow Solly to spend more time in the gait trainer. We hope this will be the first step to him really taking off with walking!

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Even though one of Sol’s strokes completely wiped out his speech center, speech is one thing that I never worried about as much as I did gross and fine motor skill development. He’s always been behind in speech, especially expressive speech, but it’s one area where we continue to see gains, even if it’s just a new sound. Before Sol’s first birthday, I met with a neuro-developmental researcher who was studying speech development after stroke and much of her research found that if one area of the brain was damaged, its mirror would take over the skills typically assigned to that section of the brain. Because the right side of Solly’s brain had much more healthy brain tissue than the left, she assured me that the right side would likely rewire to house his speech.

To date, Solly has few consistent words other than “hi” “bye bye” and “dada”. He continues to experiment with new sounds, showing new control over his tongue, particularly after our recent hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Yet, because he has difficulty with motor control and has a hard time with sign language, we find it hard to know what he wants. His inability to communicate with us pushed us to want to find other means of communication, so when our developmental pediatrician suggested an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device evaluation, we jumped at the opportunity.

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Playing on the iPad. Easiest evalation ever!

Last Friday morning, Solly and I got up bright and early for an 8am evaluation at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. We met with a very sweet speech therapist who sat down and asked about Solly’s schedule, how he is communicating, what he likes to do the most, and what his gross and fine motor skills look like. She also asked about the speech therapy that we’d done in the past year and learned about our foray into AAC, which has consisted of a Big Mac button, a Twin Talks device, and communication via simple pictures. We also talked about the simple signs that Solly knows (“all done” and “more”) and the words he uses consistently.

 

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The GoTalk 4+

Then, for the next hour, the speech therapist played with Solly. They played music games on an iPad, worked with simple low tech communication devices, and high tech communication devices that looked very similar to an iPad. Afterwards, she explained to me that she was looking at how he used his hands to make selections on the devices, how he organized his motor skills to make those selections, and how he made selections when the device was placed on his left side versus his right side. Based on her findings, she suggested we start with a low tech communication device similar to the GoTalk 4+ or GoTalk 9+, thinking these would be a good way to start communicating with Solly until he’s ready for a more high tech device or until he’s able to speak on his own.

Next week, we start with a new speech therapist at High Hopes in Franklin. After we meet with her and set Solly’s goals, we’ll buy or borrow a low tech device and get started communicating (better) with our kiddo. We’re excited to see where this goes!

On Vision and HBOT

For those of you who have been following our blog since the beginning, you might remember my constant worry over Solly’s vision. Sol was born with his eyes somewhat stuck looking towards the left. A part of the initial prognosis given was that he could be blind. (Note to Mom’s new to a pediatric stroke diagnosis: take the first prognosis, however grim it may be, and consider it only a possible outcome. Your child CAN and most likely WILL do much more than doctors believe he or she will after a stroke.) Even after rigorous vision therapy, we still got diagnoses – from several different doctors, many giving conflicting thoughts – of delayed visual maturation, CVI (cortical vision impairment), strabismus, nystagmus, possible visual field cut, possible double vision, and so on. With all these possible diagnoses swirling around us, even though it seemed that Solly was compensating well for whatever vision issues he had, we couldn’t be sure how well he was seeing. It was always a point of major frustration.

With hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), we had read of many children having improved vision after a full course of treatment. In our own experience, we saw many instances where Solly was interacting with his surrounding environment in ways we’ve never seen before, thinking that maybe it helped his vision and helped his brain make new connections as a result. But whenever we think Solly is interacting in new ways, we question IF he is and WHAT, if anything, helped his brain make those connections. We try so many things that we can’t always be sure what move was the right one.

However, after an appointment with Sol’s developmental optometrist earlier this week, we are no longer questioning these new connections: HBOT did, in fact, help Solly’s vision.

Amusing ourselves at an early morning optometry appointment


This past October, at our last appointment with our optometrist, he ran a test on Sol where he set up sensors on his head and had Solly watch a series of images flash on a screen. The sensors provided data into what Solly was seeing and how well his brain was processing the images. We were delighted when the results came back as “within normal limits.”

This week, we saw the same doctor for the first time since October and he ran the same test. After he examined Solly’s eyes, he told me that his vision had improved even more in the past 8 months. He asked if we’d been working hard on our home vision therapy exercises. I said, no, we simply just try to expose Solly to as many new environments as we can, but that we’d also done a full treatment of HBOT and thought that had a great impact on his vision. His optometrist not only agreed that HBOT had helped but he also encouraged us to do another round of treatment as our schedules allowed. We will continue to be followed by Solly’s optometrist every 6 months, but right now, no need to worry about glasses, patching, or surgery at this point. 

We’ll count this news as one big win for HBOT!

A Coffee Date

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Two little rascals

You know what happens when you have two babies under the age of 3? You drink all the coffee and don’t sleep a whole heck of a lot, let alone write blog posts.

I have had so much to say – so much has happened over the past couple of months – but at the end of the day once both babies are in bed, I struggle to get the words out of my head. Instead I usually let my brain ooze while I watch the Bachelorette and drink a glass of wine, promising myself that I will write that blog post tomorrow.

So, friends, grab your coffee (I’m already on my second cup while en route to a therapy appointment), and let’s have a coffee date – I’ll catch you up!

  • On May 24th, Solly and I completed our first round of hyperbaric oxygen therapy with our final, 40th dive. I found our entire experience of HBOT to be so positive and, most importantly, Solly had so many gains. You can read about experience with HBOT here and here.
  • The next day, we packed up our lives in South Carolina and – with the help of Nana and Papa – Solly, Bea, and I flew back to Nashville while Mike drove home with Solly’s equipment and our pups. Given all of Solly’s gains with speech during HBOT, our two short flights were wild with Solly laughs and squeals. You know when you fly, there is always that one child who is screaming during the entire flight? Yep. That was Solly! And, boy, are we sure happy that he’s that kid now!

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    Nana and a wild Solly on the airplane

  • Just one short week later, Mike and I packed up the babies once again and flew to Summit, New Jersey, where Solly had a consultation and surgery with Dr. Nuzzo. This one is hard to summarize, so I’m putting a separate post together to cover our experience. (Don’t worry. Even though it’s about the scary, seven letter “S” word, it ends on a positive note.)
  • Back home in Nashville, Solly participated in a weekend of Anat Baniel Method intensive lessons. We loved seeing some of our friends there – and even met some new ones – and, of course, spending time with our ABM practitioners Jan and Mary.

It’s been a whirlwind two months, but thankfully we are staying put in Nashville for awhile. We’re getting Solly set up in new therapies, reconnecting with some of his old (pre-HBOT) therapists, and ramping up for some intensive therapies to help make the most out of some of the gains we saw from HBOT and Solly’s new, looser legs.

Off I go to a new feeding therapy evaluation with Solly where I will likely fill up my coffee cup one more time. Life these days requires quite a bit of caffeine, but Solly and Bea sure make it all worth it!

 

Wrapping Up HBOT

When we first started hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the idea of doing 40 dives felt so daunting. Perhaps it was only because we could do one per day – or perhaps it was because the idea of being squeezed in a tube with a wiggly (and pinching, biting, and screaming) toddler was a bit too much. But when we packed up Solly and Bea to head to our 40th and final dive, I found myself already missing the very special one-on-one time I was able to have with Solly every day.

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Spending Mother’s Day with my boy

When I blogged about the gains we noticed after the first 20 dives, I mentioned that Solly was acting more like a 2 year old than he ever had before (hello, emotions!), he began making new sounds and even came close to using words, his normally tight limbs were becoming looser, and he had gotten strong enough to start bouncing when in a kneeling position.

With the second half of our treatment, we saw those gains continue to strengthen and grow. For example, in his new favorite bouncy move, he started to shift to almost walking on his knees, moving his legs reciprocally:

On top of those, we really saw him become more interactive with his surrounding environment. Instead of simply lying next to me and only playing with me or watching a show on the TV, he became more interested in sitting up and observing what was going on outside the chamber. He’d play peek-a-boo with the person in the chamber across from ours, mimic someone standing outside the chamber, or just be snoopy and watch what the technician was doing. It was really cool to see this awareness develop!

We’re excited to continue to watch Solly develop and grow as a result of HBOT, and we only hope that we can continue to build on these gains. But for now, it’s play time until we move onto the next big thing!

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Swinging in the park at Hilton Head Island