“Marcel is a very happy little boy. He’s gregarious. He loves music,” says Naimah, Marcel’s mom. “His name means ‘little warrior,’ and he’s just a fun kid.”
But the day Marcel, who has Down syndrome, developed transverse myelitis (TM) was devastating. Naimah received a call from Marcel’s day care center: “They called me and said, ‘Marcel does not want to walk too much for us today; he wants us to hold him.’”
When Naimah arrived to pick up Marcel, 3, “he was sitting down, so I went and picked him up, and his legs just fell underneath him. Right away, I knew something was not right. He became paralyzed from the waist down within a matter of hours.”
Marcel came to Kennedy Krieger Institute first as an inpatient, and then received care at the Institute’s outpatient center. The interdisciplinary care he’s received at the Institute has included physical therapy, occupational therapy and aquatic therapy. “There are really specific properties of water that help facilitate our therapeutic goals,” explains Brooke Meyer, a senior physical therapist at Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury.
Marcel’s therapies have helped him not only cope with the paralysis caused by TM, but also recover from it. “We are really focused on recovery,” Meyer says. “We’re not trying to compensate for the paralysis, but we’re truly trying to activate and restore the nervous system, so we can facilitate as much recovery as possible.”
On Marcel’s first day of physical therapy, three physical therapists helped Marcel into a child-size harness over a treadmill. One moved Marcel’s right leg, another moved his left leg, and a third held Marcel’s hips up. “For the first time in six months, I saw my child on his feet, walking again,” Naimah says.
“He’s really made some incredible progress,” Meyer adds. “If you put him on the floor, he can get to wherever he needs to go. If he wants something, he can go get it. He can sit, and he uses both of his arms to play without worrying about falling over.” Marcel’s now standing and walking with assistance. “It’s been really exciting to see the changes.”
At Kennedy Krieger, Naimah says, “They give us hope through seeing our kids in motion again. They give our kids hope by seeing themselves in motion. It’s been a lifeline; it’s just been amazing here.”