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One Step at a Time

Physical Therapy Helps Young Stroke Patient Walk Again

Most boys take for granted the ability to walk up a flight of stairs, but Junior is not your typical fifth grader. He’s taking life one step at a time with the help of the pediatric rehabilitation staff at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.

Junior was born with a congenital heart defect. Within the first two years of his life, Junior underwent three major, 10-hour heart surgeries. After spending months in the hospital, he returned home and managed his heart condition. Junior was living a normal life, explains his father, Javier. However, at age seven, Junior became seriously ill and was hospitalized once again. He needed a breathing tube and catheter.

Before he was able to go home, he needed to be off blood thinner medication for 10 days. During those 10 days, Junior had a stroke that paralyzed his entire left side. As a result, he was confined to a wheelchair and needed supplementary oxygen.

It was a long road back to recovery, and this time, specialists referred Junior to Northwestern Medicine for more comprehensive pediatric care, close to home. That’s when he started working with Joe Madonia, DPT, physical therapist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation Clinic.

“Junior has overcome more hurdles in only 10 years of life than most people do in their entire lives. He’s had it as bad as you can have it, but you’d never know it. He’s always smiling, and he always makes me smile,” said Madonia.

The 3,000-square-foot Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic provides rehabilitation services for children who experience delays as a result of illness, injuries, birth defects or other conditions, and features colorful pediatric artwork, vibrant lighting and child-sized amenities.

For more than a year now, Junior has attended weekly physical therapy sessions with Madonia and Laura Ballines, a Northwestern Medicine interpreter who helps the Solorzano family communicate with the therapists.

Using pediatric-focused physical therapy, Madonia works with Junior to restore function, increase strength and improve mobility. In each session, Madonia instructs Junior in English, and Ballines translates the direction into Spanish. Without hesitation, Junior responds and smiles from ear-to-ear when he successfully accomplishes the task.

Madonia uses a variety of tools such as slow motion video to demonstrate proper form and small hand weights for building strength. Fitting Junior with proper orthotics to provide the right support for walking was also important. Like any boy his age, Junior is motivated and inspired by rewards. His reward of choice? Watching his favorite "Pink Panther" video after completing a difficult task, such as walking a certain distance on the treadmill.

Junior is now able to take a few unaided steps using a cane, and he no longer relies on an oxygen tank. He’s starting to use his left hand, and he can push up out of his wheelchair and bed. This fall, Junior will attend elementary school four days a week, where he receives 30 minutes of therapy. He will miss school one day a week to attend therapy sessions with Madonia and other therapists at Delnor Hospital.

“Joe is an excellent therapist. The improvement in Junior is huge. It is very helpful to have these services so close to home,” says Junior's father, Javier.

The Delnor Hospital Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic is ensuring children like Junior lead a full and satisfying life at home and in school, explains Madonia. “Junior was so immobile before, and he’s come such a long way. His progress shows how a dedicated clinic can make a difference.”

Delnor Hospital Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation Clinic