Jack gets a good look at a tiger.
Seth, Diviany and Jack race up the hill, with a little help from their Pedi Rehab friends.
Recovering from surgery or illness and learning to cope with disability need not be painful or tedious. Children’s Pediatric Rehabilitation staff know how to make it fun.
It’s Fun Friday in Pediatric Rehabilitation at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Time to load up Children’s Rehab Adventure Van with a gaggle of patients and head out on an adventure. Oakland’s Knowland Park Zoo is today’s destination.
Six patients and a team of physical and occupational therapists, and speech and language pathologists will go along for more than the ride. Fun Friday is Therapy Friday as well. Everything the kids do in their rehab sessions during the week will be reinforced in the real world, with a few tigers and giraffes thrown in for color.
“It’s a fun and functional journey,” says Donna Minkler, senior speech and language pathologist, of the trip’s agenda.
The day before, Grace, a tall 14-year-old with a stylish haircut and sweet disposition, asked all the patients what they wanted for lunch during the trip and called in the orders to the cafeteria. It was good practice for improving her cognitive skills.
Now everyone boards the specially equipped van. Diviany, a spunky 12-year-old, rolls on to the van’s lift in her wheelchair and up and into the van, where her chair is strapped down for safety. She will be leaving the hospital soon, after a five-month recovery from a spinal cord infection, and is learning to navigate the world from her wheelchair.
Off they go.
“We used to take public buses for our trips,” says physical therapist Shelley Talajkowski. “Since buses only have two tie-downs for wheelchairs, it meant taking three separate buses to get all the patients to where we were going.” A two-hour outing could take four or five hours with travel time.
Shelley is grateful for the convenience the van offers, though it’s a
bittersweet reward. When her dad, Michael Goddard, died suddenly four years ago, her family and friends raised money in his honor and
donated it toward the van. The Children’s Hospital Branches, an
auxiliary fundraising group that supports Children’s, provided the rest of the funds as well as a grant to maintain the program. Not only are the trips easier, now they happen more often, usually three or four times a month. A trip can be as simple as a visit to an ice cream
parlor or to a shoe store to buy sneakers that fit over new leg braces. Once a month there is a special outing, like this one, to the zoo.
“Sometimes these kids are in the hospital for months and would never get outside during their stay,” Shelley says. “Or maybe they were in a car accident and this is the first time in a car again, or it’s the first time they are seen in public in a wheelchair. It’s a whole new way for them and it’s so important to get practice. If we don’t take them out to practice, when we send them home with their parents they won’t want to go out.”
At the zoo, the group transfers into two tour carts and heads off to see the birds and beasts. Daniel Jackson (“call me Jack”) Clough, 7, and Seth Junqueiro, 9, are encouraged to rise from their seats using leg power alone to see the giraffes. They need to regain trunk and leg strength after recent surgeries.
John Scheumann, 13, is learning strategies to process information. He is prodded to repeat details docents provide, and to process some on his own.
“There’s something huge about the baboon,” speech and language pathologist Carol Rojano suggests. “Do you see it? Something about his bottom half,” Carol urges.
“His butt,” John says.
Everyone stops in awe at the Bengal tiger’s den. “Can you see the second tiger?” docent Cindy Margulis asks. It’s a bit of a Where’s Waldo test because one tiger is hiding behind the bushes.
“There it is,” Grace points.
Cindy explains how these two rare Bengal tigers were rescued from a circus where they’d spent their entire lives on concrete and the hard surfaces of cages. When brought to the zoo a few years ago, they luxuriated in the splendor of real grass and dirt for the first time. They couldn’t get enough of it.
Children’s patients can’t seem to get enough of the zoo either. This is real grass and dirt for them too.
As the day winds down, Diviany, Jack and Seth play a game of “red light, green light” rolling down a hill. On “green,” they let their wheelchairs roll down, then stop when a therapist calls “red.” When they reach the bottom of the hill, Diviany announces, “If you go down, you must go up!” She’s had a hankering all day to race up a hill and now she gets her chance. A few therapists stay close but leave most of the effort to the kids. There’s plenty of huffing and puffing. Arms strain, teeth grit, competitive fires burn. There are no losers in this race.