At the age of 3, Nikodem (Niko) Sarna can now use his right hand to grasp objects, and is learning to use it more in the tasks of everyday life. He works at the job and his progress shows. It is hard to believe that two short years ago he could barely use it at all.
A household mishap when he was three months old led his mother, Monica, and her husband Michal, to discover Niko had cerebral palsy.
“He fell off our coffee table while he was in a bouncy chair,” says Monica. “His right collarbone fractured, and it healed but his right side did not improve. He didn’t want to use the right hand so we consulted our doctor and that’s when we learned he had cerebral palsy.”
Niko’s diagnosis, right-sided hemiplegia, or weakness on the right side of his body due to cerebral palsy, was a shock.
Yet cerebral palsy can be caused by a momentary lack of oxygen to a baby’s brain during pregnancy or delivery, and Monica’s delivery had not been smooth.
Yet it was not until after the diagnosis that Niko began to show symptoms typical of the condition.
“Niko would only use his right arm and hand for gross movements when his mother or I held his left hand – which Niko was very resistant to,” explains ErinoakKids Occupational Therapist Kim Edwards. “He would often keep his right hand in a fist and use only his left hand when playing.”
Children with this type of cerebral palsy have been shown to improve through a form of therapy called
constraint induced movement therapy (CIMT), in which the child’s unaffected arm is placed in a cast while the therapist takes the child through a course of therapy. The therapy seems like play, but the cast forces the child to use the affected hand, and the exercise leads to improvement. Originally introduced as part of the Helping Hands summer camp program at ErinoakKids, CIMT is now part of regular service offerings, and has become recognized as a leading best practice in the profession.
At one of Niko’s early therapy sessions in February 2015, Kim began using a sock puppet as a modified version of CIMT, then moved ahead to the use of the cast in April 2015.
“After each session, he used his right arm much more frequently and functionally,” says Kim. “The night the first cast came off, he used his right hand to eat grapes and blueberries, something he had not been able to do before.”
Monica attributes Niko’s remarkable progress to his motivation and unique bond with Kim.
“When I tell him we’re going to see Kim he can’t wait to get to treatment,” Monica says.
That special relationship, combined with his hard work and determination, is helping Niko see amazing results.
“Today, Niko opens his right hand nicely and often uses it to help support his weight,” Monica says. “It’s such a huge improvement that we count ourselves lucky that Niko received the support and services he needed at ErinoakKids. He’s a much more mobile, confident and happy little boy because of it.”
Each summer, ErinoakKids offers the Helping Hands Program for children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy with hemiplegia, or weakness on one side of the body. The program helps children improve impaired hand and arm function through fun group games and arts activities such as painting, treasure hunts and magic!