Most people do not know that children can have strokes. In fact, pediatric strokes occur at the highest rate in infants who are younger than 1 month old, about 1 in every 2800.
While most people may not be aware of these statistics, the kids, and their parents, who struggle with the life-long effects of strokes know this all too well.
Maya, a Georgia native, was born premature and it was soon discovered had suffered a stroke prior to birth leaving her with weakness on her left-side. According to her mother, Meghan “until age 3, she used her right hand exclusively for all activities and pretty much ignored her left side. She was frustrated and totally dependent on others to help with any 2-handed task. We saw the effects this was having on her and were looking for an innovative way we could help her.”
They found it at Powerhouse Therapy. Five years ago Powerhouse Therapy created Camp Open Hands (COH), in Roswell Georgia. COH is designed for children 2 to 15 years who struggle with one-sided weakness due to a stroke, Cerebral Palsy, traumatic head injury, or Brachial Plexus injury.
The camp utilizes Constraint Induced Therapy (CIT), an evidenced based approach, to address the effects of learned non-use by constraining use of the stronger or unaffected extremity. Children where a removable soft cast on their unaffected arm during camp hours so the focus can be on increasing functional use of their affected arm.
We put together a new camp approach based on CIT that offered a different way for these kids to make substantial gains in function in a short period of time. When we looked around the country, we saw that there were very few places that these families could turn for help, so we started COH.
Children come to Roswell, GA to participate in this unique camp from all over the U.S. The campers participate in fun activities built around themes ranging from Pirate Day to Mad Scientist to the ultra-popular and confidence-boosting Superhero Day – all while wearing their casts!
What makes the camp formula such a success, is that while the children work on gaining additional function with their “weak” arm, they are also meeting peers who face similar challenges and building confidence in using their newfound life skills.
Here’s what Maya’s mother had to say after the camp. “With Maya, we noticed significant improvements almost immediately at home! They still make me tear up, just thinking about them – like when Maya reached with her left hand at the dinner table to get her own food for the first time ever! All of a sudden, she is eager and excited to use her left hand, and is clapping and cheering for herself. We are so grateful for this camp, its location, and the therapists and volunteers who have invested in her and the other kids. It really is a miraculous camp!”
Now in its sixth year, Camp Open Hands is staffed by OTs, PTs and student volunteers who are studying in the field. Therapists provide support and a home treatment plan to the parents so the improvements can transfer into the real life environment once the camp is over.
Watching the expressions on these kids faces and the absolute joy in their parents when they do something they’ve never even dreamt of doing before – something as basic as picking up their own fork to eat – makes this all so worthwhile!
Executive Director of Powerhouse Therapy