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Posted October 23, 2013
In Spotlight of National Physical Therapy Month, ACH’s Program Shines Brightly

Maggie Reilly
Maggie Reilly
Whether the cause is illness, injury or a chronic condition, physical therapy represents a critical step for kids along the path to recovery and wellness. And at All Children's Hospital, huge strides can be made with the help of experienced, passionate staff, first-class equipment - and a setting dedicated solely to kids.

With October designated as National Physical Therapy Month, it's a fitting time to explore the advantages of the excellent pediatric-centered program provided by All Children's Hospital or one of its outpatient locations.

"First, the staff has specialized training and experience in pediatrics," says ACH Director of Physical Therapy, Maggie Reilly. "They get into the field because they want to work with kids and that's their love and all they do here is treat kids. A lot of physical therapists out in the community may see a child from time to time in their case load of adults, but that's not really where they're focusing their attention. Our staff receive specialized continuing education in pediatrics. We also provide individualized therapy, one on one,  and family involvement is an integral part of the intervention. That's a big difference."

The second reason spells out another compelling advantage at All Children's.

"It's our facility," she says. "We have the pediatric environment and pediatric-size equipment, and we focus on what's appropriate developmentally for kids. We know not only the best way to treat a child's injury, for instance, but how to get that child motivated to do the rehab.  It could be a typically developing child who has an injury of some body part, or it could be a child born with a particular problem."

Among the children benefitting from ACH's rehab program are those with genetic conditions. "We see a lot of children born with conditions such as Downs Syndrome, spina bifida or others diagnosed with disorders such as autism," she says. "When they come here, they have the right equipment, staff with the right training, and they're around other kids and families."

Reilly stresses that receiving physical therapy is a crucial component in a patient's ability to reach developmental milestones and adjust as an adult.

"With many kids who are born with special needs, their family needs to be coached and given skills to work with their children to help them be as functional as they can," she says. "The goal is to get them to be integrated into their family activities and community as much as possible."

Without a physical therapist trained to meet their needs, a child might experience a greater developmental delay, either cognitive or motor, and might not be able to interact socially with peers or family members.

"The end result could impact their contributions as an adult to the community," Reilly says. "A lot of that has to do with physical therapy, because they have to be able to move and be able to negotiate their environment. They have to be able to find out what their skills and their strengths are, and then build on those to be a contributing person in the community."

All Children's has 50 physical therapists and PT assistants (with 178 members of the entire rehab staff). Services are provided at 10 outpatient locations. In addition, there's the sports rehab program that Reilly, a 13-year veteran of All Children's, helped build.

"We've always done orthopedics as a subset of what we do, but we never had a full-fledged sports rehab program," she says. "When Dr. (Drew) Warnick came to town and was going to do surgery on these athletes, he said, 'I'd really like to refer my patients to you guys but it really needs to be a place for adolescent athletes to want to come. How can we do this together?' We realized we needed more training of our staff, because it's different when you have a developmental patient:  a baby or a youngster versus an elite athlete. Those are two different skill sets. So we made sure we hired staff that could do it, including athletic trainers."

Top-flight equipment and therapy gyms designed for the adolescent athlete were added as an additional motivator for sports rehab patients. Dr. Patrick Mularoni and Dr. Carlos Rodriguez became involved as physician champions, and the AllSports Medicine program at All Children's took flight. "Everything has just boomed," Reilly says.

Reilly sees the addition of physiatrist Dennis Hart, M.D. as one more big step in the growth of the department - and another reason to be excited about the direction of ACH rehabilitation services.

"I've worked at a lot of places where I was a small pediatric fish in a big pond with adults, and the kids were always kind of an afterthought," she says. "It was like, 'Yes, we do pediatrics but our mission is more with adults.' Here (at All Children's) - with the mission just being for children - you get the support.

"You get the support of the physicians, because they understand. You get the support of the administration, because they understand. So when you have a new program you want to develop, like our new Ultra G Treadmill in sports, our thera-suit program, or other programs like that, we can talk that talk with people who understand it. And we can get to offer these great programs to kids who don't have the opportunity to get them other places."