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New Pediatric Adventure Loft Transforms Therapy Experience for Children

In fall 2011, anxiety racked Oklahoma City resident Jessica Determan as she feared her unborn twins might face a grim future. At 23 weeks, Jessica had gone into preterm labor. After a week of bedrest, her twins were born on Oct. 16, 2011, at only 24 weeks. Right away, the tiny twins took up residence in the INTEGRIS Children’s neonatal intensive care unit at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. Says Cathy Gunter, Jessica’s mother, “It was real traumatic. They were micro-preemies. Ben weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces, and Scarlet weighted 1 pound, 4 ounces.”

Ben and Scarlett stayed in the NICU for 114 days. Although that time in their lives was undeniably stressful, Jessica and her husband Brian found comfort in the team at INTEGRIS Children’s NICU. The family formed strong bonds with staff during the twins’ stay. “They became like family,” says Jessica.

Grandmother Cathy agrees. “I cannot say enough good things about the NICU team. On a particularly bad day for Scarlet, I was upset and in tears, and one of the nurses put her arms around me and said, ‘Yes, she’s sick, but she’s a fighter and she’s holding her own.’ That put me right at ease and I thought to myself, ‘She’s going to make it,’ and here they both are.”

Although the twins were strong enough to leave the NICU after nearly four months, their journey with INTEGRIS was just beginning. Scarlett was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the now five-year-old girl began weekly therapy at INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation in 2012 before she was even a year old. In 2014, her brother Ben was diagnosed with autism and began receiving weekly therapy at Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation, too. “Scarlett wears ankle foot orthosis braces to help her walk, and she receives physical rehabilitation support for that and occupational therapy for her fine motor skills. Ben gets help with his speech and occupational therapy, too,” Jessica says.

In the few years since Scarlett and Ben began rehab therapy, the pediatric staff at Jim Thorpe also expanded. There are now nine physical, occupational and speech therapists at Jim Thorpe who are dedicated to pediatric rehab treatment. Robin Miller, who works with Scarlett and is a certified pediatric physical rehabilitation therapist, says, “We see up to 800 kids every year. The pediatric rehab program keeps growing, but we needed better equipment and a smarter utilization of space in order to grow with it.”

That’s where generous donors came in. Employee donors and the Mendelssohn family combined to create a new Pediatric Adventure Loft in the Jim Thorpe outpatient clinic. This specially designed play area was created and equipped to allow pediatric patients more opportunities to be a kid. “Children explore and experience movement different from adults,” says Robin. “They want to run and jump and play and do activities not found in a typical rehabilitation setting.” At the Loft, patients can explore their relation to gravity and space through elements like a rock wall, a scooter ramp, multi-directional swings and areas to practice fine motor skills.

The rehab therapists at Jim Thorpe strongly believe children need to practice these normal childhood movements in a safe and supported environment in order to successfully maneuver in their own community, in a park or a school playground. The Loft gives young rehab patients the chance to test such skills as swinging, sliding and climbing, so when they find themselves in that situation outside of therapy, they will have confidence, strength and coordination to lean into playing with their peers.

 “Prior to the Loft, we would spend 15 or 20 minutes creating an environment for therapy with the kids, such as stacking mats or pulling out a tunnel or building a wall,” says Jill Marler, a certified pediatric occupational rehabilitation therapist who works with Ben. “Now we have things in place, and we don’t have to cut into treatment time to set things up for the kids. We’re ready to go.”

Even better, the kids are having so much fun they don’t even know it’s therapeutic. “Now when it’s time to come to the Loft, Ben says things like, ‘Yay! Therapy!’ because he thinks of it as playtime. Before the Loft, he used to grumble a bit,” Jessica says.

The Loft allows therapists to be more focused on the specific therapy each individual child needs. “Scarlett works a lot on strengthening her trunk and her arms and her legs. She’s working on balance and coordination,” says Robin. As for Ben, Jill says, “he had sensory processing difficulties when he first started therapy and he was like a pinball in a pinball machine. We spent a lot time in the beginning helping him seek out appropriate types of movement. Then he learned how to sit and play with toys, and now we’re working on fine motor skills like dressing.”

Jessica says the results have been astounding. “The first time Ben sat still and stayed focused on completing a puzzle, it took my breath away. And Scarlett? When she first sat up, when she first crawled using her legs, and when she took her first steps … I know most every kid walks, and most every kid talks, right? But it means so much to see your kids thrive and grow and meet milestones you thought they never might make. It’s just so special.”

Robin thinks the Loft is special, too. “It makes me feel proud that INTEGRIS employees (are among the donors who) rose to the occasion to help us and thought this Loft was worthwhile. The fact that they gave their own money to build it means a lot,” she says.

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