Patient Stories

Taking Life, One Step at a Time

Taking Life, One Step at a Time

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Physical Therapy Helps Young Stroke Patient Walk Again

Most 10 year old boys take for granted the ability to walk up a flight of stairs, but Javier (“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 heart surgeries at a different hospital, lasting 10 hours each.

After spending months in the hospital, Junior 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. When he was ready to be discharged, he needed to be off blood thinner medication for 10 days before he would be able to go home. During those 10 days, Junior had a stroke that paralyzed his entire left side. As a result, he was wheelchair bound and needed 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 ten 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.

Junior first attended physical therapy at Central DuPage Hospital and then switched to Delnor Hospital’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic, when it opened in August 2017. The 3,000 square foot 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 over 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 oxygen. 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 in order 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 his father, Javier.

The pediatric outpatient 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.”

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