Children from all over the world could benefit from a new therapy taking place right here in Roanoke. In the past children with cerebral palsy were told there was not much that could be done to improve their motor skills. Now a program at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke is changing that.
Eight year old Jack Goldberg is from Ottawa, Canada. "I think it's really good for me," Goldberg said.
On the day we visited children were taking part in what looked like a simple game. They hit a balloon back and forth to each other with a racquet. It's exercises like this one that help these children do something most of us take for granted.
"These children come in and they don't realize they can use their hand," said Mary Rebekah Trucks, an occupational therapist who works with the children.
Here's how the therapy works. A cast is put on the child's stronger arm. In Goldberg's case he is wearing a cast on his left arm which forces him to use his right arm.
"A lot of times when we take the cast off I forget what I can do with my right hand
and I immediately use my left hand more than my right hand," Goldberg said. "So I think it's really good with the cast on."
Keya Shapiro is from Minnesota. The 9 year old is finishing up the month long program and can now do something she struggled with before. She can button her shirt.
"Now that I can do the buttons on my shirt easier I can wear button shirts," Shapiro said with a smile.
She's also working on something she loves- playing tennis. "We spent a lot of time practicing picking up the balls and bouncing and catching," said Trucks. "That's something she's learned during the month is being able to bounce and catch so it's incredibly rewarding."
Scientists will take scans of the children's brain throughout the treatment to show that the brain can be re-wired,.
"This is a dream come true," said Dr. Sharon Ramey, who is director of the VTCRI Neuromotor Research Clinic along with Dr. Stephanie DeLuca.
The doctors have have pioneered the use of high-intensity therapeutic intervention that has allowed children with weakness on one side of their bodies to make large, rapid and enduring gains in their motor skills, according to VTCRI.
Now after years of conducting scientific research and developing treatment they're beginning to see the results.
The National Institutes of Health is funding the research at VTCRI with a $4.3 million dollar grant for study on children ages two through eight. Another $3 million is expected for a study on infants 6 to 18 months old. The research will hopefully provide models for standardized treatment and eventual insurance coverage for the treatment for children with cerebral palsy, according to VTCRI.
"This is really launching something unique to this part of Virginia and something that will matter to children worldwide," Dr. Ramey said.