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A Young Boy's Perserverance

Benny receiving casting to help him recover his ability to walk.

What started out as a terrible cough for 7-year-old Benny quickly grew into a life-threatening situation. His parents thought he was suffering from a bad case of bronchitis until the coughing became so intense it left Benny vomiting and wheezing. He was rushed to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with asthma and acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was promptly admitted.

A few days later, it was confirmed that Benny became infected with hospital-acquired pneumonia.  Struggling to breath, he was intubated and placed on an oscillator, a type of ventilator that kept his fragile lungs open while supplying him with oxygen. Sedated and paralytic, Benny would spend over a month in the pediatric intensive care unit.

“It was a nightmare. Our lives stopped right then,” explains Benny’s dad, Manuel. “There isn’t anything you can do for your son. You feel helpless. We just started praying.”

After several weeks, the doctors stabilized his condition and began to wean Benny off the oscillator and medications. Dr. Mary Keen, medical director of Marianjoy’s pediatric rehabilitation program, was asked to evaluate Benny.

“Once he was off the medications, it was obvious that he was going to need intensive rehabilitation,” notes Manuel. “He could talk, but he couldn’t walk or hold things because his hands were so shaky. Dr. Keen recommended that he be admitted to Marianjoy.”

Benny’s inpatient rehabilitation included speech, physical, and occupational therapy, along with daily respiratory treatments. As he continued to make progress, one of his goals was to walk unassisted. His therapist, Hayley Wrezinski, used a casting technique to help him achieve this goal.

“Benny had very tight muscles in his ankles and legs that were forcing his feet to point outward. In addition, his legs were in a stance that was farther apart than normal to accommodate the tightness,” explains Hayley. “It’s not uncommon to see this in patients who have spent long periods of time in bed, as was the case with Benny. We casted both of his ankles to help stretch those muscles in conjunction with stretching his other leg muscles. Our goal was to help bring his feet and legs into proper alignment as he relearned to walk.”

Benny’s rehabilitation stay coincided with Marianjoy’s annual Toys for Tots event, a festive holiday party for Marianjoy pediatric patients, their siblings and families. Knowing how excited Benny was to attend the party and meet Santa, his therapy team used the opportunity to encourage him to concentrate on improving his walking skills. Benny’s goal was to take several steps on his own from his wheelchair to greet Santa at the party. To the delight of everyone, including Santa, he did just that.

Manuel had taken a leave of absence from his job to accompany his son through his rehabilitation journey. “The doctors told us it was by chance that this terrible cold he developed, mixed with undiagnosed asthma, led to this horrible situation. It almost took my son. Benny would ask me, ‘Why did I have to go through this? Why did this happen to me?’ It’s so hard to watch your little boy struggle. My wife and I want what’s best for him and the Marianjoy therapists are helping him get there. I can see the final product. Little by little he’s getting stronger. He’s a fighter.”

Benny is expected to make a full recovery though he will continue to take medication for his asthma. He will also be discharged home with a wheelchair to use when needed, but his therapists expect that it won’t be long before he’s able to walk unassisted.

Confirms Manuel: “We live over an hour away so Marianjoy wasn’t close for us, but it was certainly well worth it. I know we made the best choice for our son.”