When Roderick Ball arrived at Kennedy Krieger in a wheelchair in December 2008, it had been months—maybe longer—since he’d really walked. But, nearly four months later, he left the Institute on his own two legs.
And two crutches, technically, but that’s beside the point. For the 12-year-old boy from Atlanta, what matters is that he’s up and walking, something his family once worried would never happen. Diagnosed at age 5 with schwannomatosis, Roderick had for years been developing benign tumors on the nerves along his spinal cord, gradually causing pain and loss of movement. His parents and physicians worried the nerve damage would permanently rob him of the ability to walk. “It was hard,” recalls his mother, Celithia Ball. “He was in so much pain. You can’t deal with that for the rest of your life, especially starting so young, when you’re just a kid.”
A successful surgery at another hospital removed the growths, but Roderick remained confined to a wheelchair. His surgeon knew that the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute had a reputation for helping patients like Roderick to walk again. And so his next steps in recovery were taken under the care of Beth Farrell, a physical therapist at the Institute. But despite the hard work physical therapy had in store for him, Roderick was ready. “He was excited,” Celithia says. “He was so tired of being in pain and being uncomfortable. He was willing to do whatever he needed to get his life back.”
With Farrell’s help, that’s exactly what he did. The physical therapists at Kennedy Krieger made the work fun for Roderick, using creative ideas that kept him on his feet, like cooking, playing hide and seek, or interactive video games. “Beth always wanted to know what interested him and what he liked, and she tried to make those things part of his therapy routine. She went over and beyond.”
Farrell says the same of Roderick. “He was very motivated,” she says. “He came to every session prepared and ready to work hard. Sometimes it’s difficult for patients his age to keep the big goal in mind and push through day to day challenges. But he was so mature and motivated. He really saw the big picture and didn’t hesitate to work hard to achieve his goals, which he certainly did.”
By the time he returned home that March, he had traded his wheelchair for crutches. “You guys made sure he was up and walking,” Celithia says. “Even to this day he talks about how great his therapy was there.”