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First of its Kind Legislative Bill Extends Physical Therapy Visits

Owen is well on his way to walking without crutches

Legislators serving in the Utah State Legislative Session will soon gather at the Utah State Capitol to consider myriad matters of importance. They do so knowing they may never bear witness to the individual beneficiaries of their efforts — representatives like Rep. Eric Hutchings, who was instrumental in the passage of a bill in 2019 – “The Pediatric Neuro-Rehabilitation Fund” – that is now official legislation.

However, simultaneous to the upcoming session, the fruits of Hutchings’ past labor are in full swing at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City, where Owen, age 12, is regaining his strength after a big surgery, thanks to the bill’s funding.

Extending care

The Pediatric Neuro-Rehabilitation Fund – considered the first legislation of its kind in the country – provides funding for continued physical and occupational therapy services to children in Utah with non-progressive neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, who have experienced a serious change in their functional status.

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City – one of three facilities to first tap into the $50,000 fund – is using the funds to help children who have gone through an orthopaedic surgery in the past six months, who rely on the funding to cover their therapy beyond what insurance allows.

Rick Reigle, PT, D.P.T., director of rehabilitation services, is particularly grateful for the opportunity to oversee the use of these funds at the hospital. Rick lead the work group that established this legislation, prior coming to direct rehabilitation services at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City.

“Extending therapy maximizes functional mobility, increases personal independence and decreases the need for durable medical equipment,” said Rick. “The ultimate goal is for children to have the ability to more actively participate in school, in the community and at home.”  

Head start

Owen has been part of the Shriners Hospitals family since diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 2. His most recent surgery, performed by Chief of Staff Kristen Carroll, M.D., was a major multi-level ankle and hip surgery to help improve his walking. He underwent lengthening on his ankle to improve his foot position during standing. The surgery on his hip corrected misalignment to help improve stability.     

The surgeries were successful, but they’re only the first part of the journey. Dr. Carroll was concerned about the effects of post-surgical inactivity on the quality of his bones and the increased risk of blood clots. She recommended he start physical therapy right away. Waiving the usual wait time, Owen was back in the therapy room with his long-time therapist, Mark Lange, MPT, just ten days following surgery.

“That’s where this neuro fund comes in,” explained Mark. “We would normally use all his allotted visits anyway with a big surgery like this, but starting physical therapy early meant that visits covered by insurance got used up early on. Being able to get reimbursements from these appointments allows us to provide services for more kids.”

Working hard

His therapy is extensive. In twice weekly, one-hour sessions, Mark works with Owen on lower extremity strengthening and his ability to maintain weight on his right leg so he can walk without crutches.

One therapy technique involves a machine used to simulate weight bearing. Owen can resist forces through his legs while laying down, similar to a leg press. His therapy regimen also incorporates resistance bands, walkers, and the use of a machine which uses a harness to help hold Owen up while we walks.

After Owen and Mark reminisced about how fun physical therapy appointments were when he was a young child, Mark teased: “We haven’t been having so much fun lately though, right? Now it’s all just work, work, work.”

Though Owen admits he is tired after physical therapy, he concedes that he always feels better the next day, and insists he enjoys it. “It’s still fun.”

And the hard work – and fun – is paying off. “I’ve seen huge improvement strength-wise,” said his father, Adam.

Home at Shriners Hospital

Reflecting on Owen’s last decade of care, the family is filled with gratitude and rave reviews. “We have always loved Shriners. It’s pretty much home for us,” said Adam. “We are always telling people, 'You should go to Shriners … it’s awesome.'” 

Owen doesn’t hesitate to add his stamp of approval, too, saying, “Shriners is good at helping people and it’s just a really good place to be.”

Good stewards

Thank you to the legislators serving the community who advocate for the health and well-being of children like Owen. The funds provided by this legislation help Shriners Hospitals for Children serve more kids. The generous charity care policy at Shriners Hospitals for Children is such that children are never turned away due to inability to pay. The more the hospital is able to utilize funds like this, the farther donations will stretch. Being good stewards of donations helps ensure the health care system’s longevity.

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Owen with therapist

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