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Therapists in the News: Summer Camp Therapy to Help Kids with Hemiplegia - featured July 10, 2009

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This article is reprinted with the express permission of the North Carolina Children's Hospital.

The joy of summer camp is a lifelong memory every child deserves. But what if motor function challenges precluded your child from participating in a traditional camp experience? Thanks to one occupational therapist from N.C. Children's Hospital, hemiplegic children in North Carolina have access to a summer day camp that combines traditional camp activities with therapy made fun.

"Children with hemiplegia have motor impairment on one side of their bodies due to stroke or other injury to the brain's motor centers," explains Holly Holland, the Children's Hospital occupational therapist who started the camp. "As they grow, they tend to favor the unaffected limb more over time, effectively worsening their physical disability. These children struggle to learn age-appropriate play and can have difficulty acquiring life skills."

Holland knew her patients with hemiplegia could benefit from constraint-induced movement therapy, or CIMT. The novel therapy, which started in adult stroke victims, involves putting the child's unaffected upper extremity in a cast. The child is then engaged in directed play aimed at strengthening the weak arm and developing the hand dexterity needed to perform basic life skills—things like eating, dressing, or brushing teeth, for instance. Unfortunately for Holland's patients, pediatric CIMT programs are scarce and can cost upwards of $20,000.

Holland envisioned developing a CIMT-based camp for kids in North Carolina but lacked the financial resources. Then came promise grants, a program of the Children's Hospital's fundraising arm, the N.C. Children's Promise. Each fall, the N.C. Children's Promise accepts proposals from faculty and staff seeking to fund life-enriching programs left unfunded by the Children's Hospital's clinical revenues. An independent committee reviews the applications and awards "promise grants," as they're called, ranging from $100 to $20,000 to the areas of greatest need. The funds come from undesignated monetary gifts made by donors to the Children's Promise through events like the Children's Hospital's annual radiothon/telethon.

The N.C. Children's Promise awarded Holland promise grants in each of the past two years, enabling her to develop a CIMT-based camp she calls "Helping Kids with Hemiplegia." Each camper is assigned a student therapist and enjoys goal-oriented games and activities. Parents attend concurrent educational programming and socialize with one another.

Nearly 100 kids from ages 3 to 10 have enjoyed the therapeutic camp experience with their families since the camp's inception. Because of the charitable support Holland receives for the camp, children and families are able to attend free of charge. And as Holland expected, families are seeing a difference in their children's abilities and willingness to engage in home-based therapy after the camp experience.

"I worried that the intensity of six hours a day for eight days might be too much for her, but she really learned to trust that left arm," said Kate Kane of her 4-year-old daughter, Maura, who participated in last year's camp and will attend again in 2009. "She went home with a new confidence, and I did, too, both of us knowing she can do so much more."

The 2009 session of the "Helping Kids with Hemiplegia" summer day camp was held Saturday, June 13 through Saturday, June 20 at Mary Scroggs Elementary School in Chapel Hill. Thirty-three children from all over the state are enrolled to participate.

Tags: Pediatric Stroke News of the Week Newsletter July 2009