One Step At a Time 

Amazing Innovations and Tender Care  Achieve Breakthroughs at Euro-Peds Center   by Rick Marschall

Sad to say, but once upon a time the parents of children with severe gross motor disorders including cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and spina bifida, often felt resigned to lives of heartache, special training, and troubling diagnoses. Burdens. Sadness for the child, and for themselves.

 “Heaven” was a word that would be whispered as a code for relief, the end of trials for the child and parents alike.

 Let’s stop right there for a moment. I will break a rule of magazine feature writing, and get very personal for a moment. My niece had a severe case of cerebral palsy: three-month development level, her body’s muscles and nerves continuously turning on themselves, a victim of pain and tremors. She was predicted to live three to five years, but lived into her 20s.

 Her mother, my sister, never spoke of a burden, however. Neither did other friends and relatives and all who met Liza. Somehow – in ways that people who are not parents or close relatives seldom understand – these special-needs children with neurological disorders become blessings. Their reactions, their smiles, their victories over challenges, their sweet vulnerability, outweigh any of life’s surprises accompanying these diagnoses.

 How often do parents or family members say that they have come to cherish their “situations.” My sister did. I did. Are there regrets for the child’s discomfort and pain? Of course.

But “heaven”? Loving care, better treatment, and healthcare advances have changed peoples’ perspectives.

And (to finish my personal aspect in this story) there is a piece of heaven for those who have CP, spina bifida, etc., right here in Michigan. An astonishing center that welcomes patients from near and far, and their families; helps with assistance and lodging if needed; is clean and spacious and well-staffed. It is stocked with startling new and innovative equipment and approaches to therapy.

That place is called Euro-Peds (Euro because many of the innovations were pioneered in Europe; and Peds – “Peeds, for Pediatric, although people in their 20s and 30s are cared for too) and it is located in a shiny new building in Pontiac.

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It is hard to prioritize a list of favorable impressions. The spaciousness extends to rooms that in most facilities would be “community rooms.” But every patient has one of these large rooms to him or herself; cheery, colorfully decorated walls and large windows; and smiles – the children smile, the physical therapists (PTs) and their assistants (PTAs) and volunteers are encouraging and smiling… and so are the parents.
Parents are often present during the therapy, which is part of the philosophy of care at Euro-Peds – intensive sessions and periods of care, followed by rest and assessment before resuming.

More tangible representatives of Euro-Peds’ philosophy of care are the unusual devices and equipment you spots around the rooms. Innovation on display – we will visit these miracle devices, many of European design, or modified from breakthrough approaches in Europe’s clinics.

 These European approaches (many designed in Poland) seem – on first look, but especially to someone who has seen the traditional braces and weights for, say, CP kids, so familiar in the United States – they seem so different… but so logical. You can get an idea from descriptions of typical sessions, as appropriate, as outlined by the welcoming staff at Euro-Peds:

 Preparation Phase – Generally, the first part of treatment is a preparation period. This can consist of warming up the muscles through hot packs and massage followed by stretching and strengthening the muscles so that they are ready for the second part of therapy. For children who do not have tight muscles, more stimulatory techniques and activities are performed during the preparation phase.

Moist Hot-Packs – 10-15 minutes of application to areas of tight musculature.

 herapeutic Massage – 15-20 minutes to prepare muscles for stretching and strengthening.

Manual Therapy – Consists of soft tissue and/or joint mobilizations to increase range of motion and prepare the body for movement/exercise.

Stretching and Range of Motion – 30-60 minutes of stretching, passive range of motion, active-assisted range of motion, active range of motion  and/or resisted range of motion to prepare for strengthening and functional activities.

Strengthening Exercises – Focus on weak muscle groups, often utilizes the Universal Exercise Unit (UEU), nicknamed “the cage” – an ingenious three-walled mesh unit that allows for bungee cords (layman’s term!) to be placed in countless multiple places to support, challenge, and encourage patients to stand, swing, reach, step, or whatever is needed in that session.

Sensory Integration – Consists of manual techniques.

When you visit the Euro-Peds facility, you see children in their rooms, encouraged – often laughing – at the progress they make. They know they experience progress, and degrees of independence and strength, new to them. The care is personalized and continually reevaluated, as progress or stubbornness is monitored. There is no “template”: every case is special and treated that way.

In the second phase of therapy, a number of activities are practiced which include balance, coordination and functional activities such as head control, rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking.

Balance and Coordination – These skills are essential in order to maintain different positions as well as to be able to move through different positions independently.

Functional Activities – Includes activities such as rolling, crawling, kneeling, transfers, standing, stair climbing, etc.

“Gait” Training – Walking with and without assistive devices, some of which are recent innovations and special to Euro-Peds.

Suit Therapy (if approved by physician) – Euro-Peds was the first program in the U.S. to offer Suit Therapy for strengthening, balance and functional activities. Suit Therapy increases awareness, and positions the child in a more ideal alignment during these activities (They struck this visitor as soft, friendly body armor). Suit therapy is typically done for one to two hours per day after hip x-rays are taken.

Universal Exercise Unit (UEU) – Continues through most therapy. These 6.5x6.5-foot “cages” were first offered in the US by Euro-Peds.

Euro-Peds also makes available Home Exercise Programs (detailed written home exercise program with digital pictures. Videos can be provided for guidance); and Referrals for Orthotics, Occupational, and Speech Therapy.

Receiving specialized physical therapy 2-4 hours daily, children usually do a two-week session the first time to make sure they can tolerate intensive physical therapy. After this first session, the PT can recommend whether two-, three- or four-week sessions are best.

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“We never underestimate a child,” says Michelle Haney, PT, MSPT, Director of Euro-Peds. She joined the staff of Euro-Peds National Center for Intensive Pediatric PT (Euro-Peds’ formal descriptive name) in 2001… as a physical therapist. Her expertise and responsibilities grew, all beginning with a heart for her own special-needs sister.

“My parents were told she would never walk,” Michelle recalls. “But with great care and challenging treatment, at age 12 she did walk!”

Michelle carries the empathy for those victims of neurological disorders, and their families. She also is very familiar, as is Euro-Peds as a treatment center, with the many, many challenges attendant to special-needs situations: the non-medical factors. “I appreciate the small things,” she said.

But the “small things” are not always small: Insurance is difficult to navigate; reimbursements can be low and always challenging; Medicaid reimburses, generally, 20 per cent of PT costs. Et cetera.

As part of its mission, Euro-Peds will not turn away patients it deems suitable for its therapy regimens. Families who travel from out of the region are accommodated, for instance with the nearby Marriott Hotel that offers special rates in those circumstances.

Since we have mentioned smiling faces, and “never underestimating” their children, we present some notes of visits made during therapy in those bright rooms.

A cheery nine-year-old, Tessa, was fitted so she could stand up – with help, at this stage of her progress – but proud to be taking her first steps. Her mom said. “There is no substitute for knowing what it is to move her feet and go forward!” The Euro-Peds equipment makes that possible. I can testify that smiles like hers are not a grimace of pain, but joy and an awareness of progress.

Matt, who suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury, began at Euro-Peds when he was young, and is now in his early 20's. He reports every day, two hours every day of PT, and is able to express his happiness. It is rewarding to see the good-natured bantering, not only words of encouragement, between staff and patients; there is a family feeling.

Don is also in his 20s, and has been coming to Euro-Peds since it opened in 1999. CP is his challenge, but he has made such progress that he now assists with activities. This alone is an encouragement to newcomers and their families.

Braxton, a boy with spina bifida, comes with his mom from a town west of Chicago, and will be establishing a schedule of visits and sessions. Through smiles and tears Braxton’s mom reckons that saw her son’s strength double in weeks. It was heart-warming to witness him, in elastic straps connected the “cage,” and either sitting or suspended in a swing, kicking a ball to knock pins down, squealing with joy at each strike.

His mom learned about Euro-Peds at an Abilities Expo event; the family went home with information and a tentative plan for Braxton. “There is a ‘get it done’ attitude here,” she said. “It definitely was a great decision to come to Euro-Peds.”

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This “piece of heaven” as we have described might lead visitors to wonder – especially in a [euphemism alert!] challenging environment of high budgets, insufficient insurance industry support, and sparse government assistance – how Euro-Peds makes ends meet. The situation has, of course, occurred to the managers of the National Center for Intensive Pediatric PT.

For those reasons, Euro-Peds, which is an LLC, has been partnered since 2013 with the Euro-Peds Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3).

The Foundation raises funds and awards grants that help the kids receive life-altering intensive physical therapy and education the Euro-Peds location in Pontiac. This is referred to the “the first” location, because the dream, properly, is to expand this unique treatment elsewhere.

Current Euro-Peds Foundation programs include:

Treatment Grants -- The Euro-Peds Foundation awards treatment grants to children who are receiving intensive physical therapy at the Euro-Peds Intensive Pediatric Physical Therapy Clinic in Pontiac.

Travel Grants -- Many children travel with their families from out-of-state to attend Euro-Peds for sessions that last two to four weeks.  Airfare, gas, hotel, and other travel expenses are not typically covered by insurance. The Foundation has established this program to help families with out-of-pocket, lodging expenses to help ease the financial burden.

Adopt A Euro-Kid Program -- At times, requests for grants may exceed the funds available through the Treatment and Travel grants. EPF is committed to helping every child, so the Foundation may choose to create an Adopt a Euro-Kid fundraising page. After reviewing the stories and needs of the Adopt A Euro-Kids, supporters may choose to donate to a specific child's Euro-Peds session.

Euro-Peds operates on the unwritten basis that we humans are all one family, perhaps unlike each other superficially, but certain alike in our common humanity, challenges, occasional disabilities, and, certainly, our sympathies, needs, and joys. Myself, after spending an afternoon at Euro-Peds in Pontiac, was reminded of these truths, and supposed that’s how heaven will be. But in the meantime, work is to be done here, and Euro-Peds is doing it in remarkable fashion.

It attends trade fairs like Abilities Expo. It has several excellent websites (links below) and reader-friendly literature. Its application form are very uncomplicated. Its care follows children home for follow-up therapy; for providing letters of medical necessity when needed for reimbursements that might be available; for spreading the unique approach of care they pioneer.

Euro-Peds Foundation’s annual gala was held recently at the nearby Auburn Hills Marriott at Centerpoint – titled the “First Step” Gala.  At 11:11 in the evening, $1,111 was awarded in a raffle, based on “ONE child, ONE therapist, ONE opportunity for mobility, changing ONE life at a time.” There was live entertainment; a presentation by Dr Partha Nandi of WXYZ-TV7; “Pacesetter” awards to the D-Man Foundation and the Gandee family, both of whom have supported the common goals of Euro-Peds; and Marty Sheedy, a man born with multiple congenital deformities – a success story we shall visit in an upcoming issue of Innovative Health Magazine.

The cast and crew of ABC’s ground-breaking new series Speechless, about a CP child and his family; and Dr Susan Youngs of the Center for Exceptional Families, were also honored. In addition, other children and their families were present and honored.

At the Gala, as in their homes and neighborhoods after therapy, they display their amazing progress, and joy-filled self-confidence. And growing independence.

One step at time.

The National Center for Intensive Pediatric PT
Euro-Peds Foundation
3000 Centerpoint Parkway
Pontiac, MI 48341

Michelle Haney, PT, MSPT
Clinic and patient application: 248.857.6776