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Teen Recovers in Pediatric Rehabilitation Program

Jalen left for school like it was any other day. She was a freshman in high school. She had woken up with some chest and back pain, but figured she had slept in an awkward position the night before and didn’t think anything of it. She did some stretching to loosen up her back and continued getting ready. On her walk to school, the pain quickly intensified and before long, Jalen lost her ability to walk. She called her older sister to come pick her up. Jalen’s sister found her sitting helpless on the sidewalk. Within hours, Jalen was paralyzed from the chest down, unable to move her toes and unable to speak.

Jalen’s mom, Tiffany, immediately took her to the local emergency room and the doctors were initially stumped. One doctor thought she was pretending. He lifted Jalen’s leg and said she would not go home until she held it up. Jalen’s leg fell limply to the bed.

After much testing and a few exploratory treatments, doctors diagnosed Jalen with transverse myelitis – a rare inflammation that damages the spinal cord and the body’s ability to transmit messages from the brain to nerves throughout the body.

Jalen spent one month in her local hospital. According to Tiffany, the doctors helped Jalen overcome the acute phase of her illness and then focused on simple milestones, like getting up to shower. But Jalen needed more comprehensive, ongoing physical therapy to regain her independence. Knowing Jalen needed a pediatric rehabilitation medical team for intense physical therapy, her doctors recommended care at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. “The doctors recommended we go to the Northern California Shriners Hospital because it was the best place for Jalen’s spinal injury,” said Tiffany. “Their pediatric rehabilitation program was the best possible place for Jalen to rehabilitate. Our first doctors told us Shriners’ [Hospital] physical therapy and occupational therapy were excellent.”

Jalen immediately noticed a difference at the Northern California Shriners Hospital. “Shriners has so much help and support for me and my family,” said Jalen. “My first day they gave me a bedside bag with activities and lots of useful stuff. They also noticed that I like to paint, so they kept bringing me art supplies. I painted a lot when I was there.”

Tiffany also noticed an immediate difference in the quality of care Jalen was receiving. She said the pediatric rehabilitation team was focused on getting Jalen up and moving. They were also goal-oriented, and the medical team was very collaborative. “Jalen’s team included all her doctors from different specialties. Nurses, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist all met in one room to create a plan for Jalen,” said Tiffany. “They called it her ‘game plan.’ They had all done their own research about her rare condition and came up with a customized plan, specific to Jalen’s rehabilitation, together. They mapped out exactly what her recovery would look like. They were so focused on getting her up and moving right away.”

During her month-long inpatient treatment here, Jalen developed especially close relationships with her physical and occupational therapists.

“Laura [Jalen’s physical therapist] is amazing,” said Jalen. “She’s so much fun. She made our sessions fun, and physical therapy didn’t even feel like work. She even let me schedule my sessions at the same time as my friend [a new friend Jalen made during her hospital stay].”

Jalen’s occupational therapy team recognized that she would need a custom wheelchair to support her posture and help her get around in the community after discharge from the hospital. “They are really experts in wheelchairs and helped me pick the best chair for my needs, encouraging me to consider things I wouldn’t have even thought about,” said Jalen.

Today, almost one year after her diagnosis, Jalen walks with braces and arm supports. She uses her chair when she needs more mobility and for longer days away from home. She enjoys spending time with her friends and swimming. Jalen loves the pool, especially because her legs feel great when she is in the water.

Jalen also enjoys riding her new adaptive bicycle, which she recently received at no cost to her family from the Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California BikeFit program.

Jalen looks forward to starting her sophomore year of high school in the fall, and continues to work hard towards her recovery with outpatient physical and occupational therapy at the hospital. She also hopes to one day work with children in some capacity, perhaps as a physical therapist like Laura. She’d also love to work with kids in equestrian therapy.

“I’d also really love to be able to roller skate again someday,” said Jalen. “I’m not sure what Laura would say about that, but that would be amazing.”

Jalen in therapy gym

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