BFit Proves There is an Athlete in All of Us
On Monday and Wednesday evenings this past fall, the rehabilitation gym on the second floor of Shriners Children’s New England was once again full of motivating music, hard-working athletes and inspiring coaches as the BFit program made a welcome return. Back for the first session since fall of 2019, BFit is specifically designed for Shriners Children’s patients 5 years of age and older with a neuromuscular condition such as cerebral palsy. The 10-week program encourages children to try new things and challenge themselves beyond the boundaries of a traditional therapy session. For kids like Blake, BFit is also a chance to be surrounded by peers who share similar goals while working with their Shriners Children’s care team in a new and unique way.
BFit is a collaboration between the rehabilitation department at Shriners Children’s New England and the Springfield College physical therapy department’s integrated clinical experience program. Students receive college credit for serving as coaches, rotating through for five sessions each to provide one-on-one support and encouragement to participating athletes. Exercises are performed in a timed, circuit-style format with an emphasis on power-based moves. Current research shows that this method of exercise can improve function in children with neuromuscular conditions.
Blake, an active and engaging 7-year-old, has been a Shriners Children’s New England patient since the age of 3. Born at 28 weeks with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, he has undergone extensive physical therapy and also sees the pediatric orthotic and prosthetics specialists at Shriners Children's for leg braces that help with his mobility. Blake's remarkable progress made him an ideal candidate to join BFit.
“He really looks forward to it,” said Blake’s mom, Laura. “It’s an awesome thing to see him have this level of commitment and accountability. He loves getting to know the college students, and how they make it feel like fun and not work.”
In the fall of 2020, Blake traveled with Laura and his stepfather, Robert, to Baltimore where he underwent a selective dorsal rhizotomy. This surgical procedure is performed on the lower spine to reduce spasticity in the legs of children with cerebral palsy. The procedure, combined with physical therapy, can greatly improve mobility. For the past two years, Blake has worked with his Shriners Children's physical therapist, Megan, on an intense, post-surgical rehabilitation protocol. According to Laura, BFit was the perfect next step for him.
The BFit atmosphere is fun and collegial as athletes work alongside their peers while listening to upbeat music, a small detail that can make a big difference. “Music is a huge motivator for Blake,” said Laura. “It helps to get him up and moving at home, and it makes the programs here that much more successful for him.”
Since their medical appointments involve spending time primarily with adults, BFit athletes benefit from being surrounded by kids their own age that they have something in common with. “When Blake is around other kids like him he feels comfortable, and that increases his confidence,” said Laura. “He’s not the kid with the walker, he’s just Blake.”
The stations set up during BFit allow athletes to try things they may not experience during regular rehabilitation sessions, like the climbing wall. “The intent of BFit is to give the athletes a taste of things they can do outside of the therapy room,” said Maureen Nahorniak, PT, MBA, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Shriners Children’s New England, and director of the BFit program. “We want them to be active in their community and not just in the therapeutic setting.” Participants leave BFit with a list of local resources for adaptive sport and recreation programs in the greater Springfield area, so they can discover what opportunities exist for them to pursue the activities they enjoy.
Blake has made great strides with his speed and endurance since joining BFit, and it has become one more thing that he loves about Shriners Children’s New England. “It’s always fun for him here,” said Laura. “Everyone has been incredible, and has been part of Blake’s journey. There’s no doubt in our minds he’s where he is today because of Shriners. We’re really grateful.”
Have fun, BFit
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