Hi Line Living
By Tim Leeds
Kayla LaSalle leads an active 8-year-old life. She attends classes at Lincoln-McKinley School in Havre, likes to play basketball, care for her horses and have fun.
In a wheelchair.
Kayla suffers from cerebral palsy, a medical condition affecting muscle control. Most of what she does, including playing basketball, is done in a wheelchair. The condition impairs her use of her legs and trunk. She can walk a little.
"Just with a walker," Kayla said.
"Only for a short distance," added Bobby LaSalle, her father.
Kayla will soon be taking a trip with Bobby and Susie LaSalle, her mother, that may change that. The trip is to Euromed Rehabilitation Center in Mielno, Poland, for a special process that has treated about 450 children with cerebral palsy a year since it began in 1994. The treatment has been extremely successful in helping children with the condition, which cannot be cured.
The process will split her family for a bit, but Kayla said she is looking forward to the trip and treatment. Her 13-year-old brother, Beau, will stay with family members for the month his parents and sister are gone. Susie has to take time off from her job as a stockbroker at D.A. Davidson, and Bobby from his as a program technician at the Hill County Farm Service Agency office.
The doctors from Euromed who approved Kayla's treatment at the center after a screening in Denver in April wouldn't say how likely the treatment is to help her, Bobby said.
"They wouldn't even go there. Every patient is different. Every one is an individual," he said.
But the doctors said desire and will are important factors for success in the treatment, and Susie said that gives hope for Kayla's treatment.
"She really wants to walk," Susie said.
Support for the LaSalles has been tremendous since Kayla was diagnosed with her condition, from family, friends and the community in general, Susie said. Her sister, Cindy Schubert, sister-in-law Mary Ann McLean, and family friend Julie Strauser have organized a fund-raiser at the Vets Club on Sept. 14 to help with the expenses of the trip. The entire monthlong trip and treatment will cost the family $15,000.
The fund-raiser, which starts at 6 p.m. and costs $5 a person or $20 for a family, will include dinner, a raffle, a live auction and a silent auction, and dancing.
Friends from the Shanty Bar held a benefit without being asked, Susie added.
"They just did it on their own. It was amazing," she said.
Kayla has needed support all of her life. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was about 1 year old, after a year of difficulties.
Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the brain during pregnancy or shortly after birth. The injury impairs muscle control, with the severity of the effect and how much of the body is affected varying.
One possible cause is brain damage during or after premature birth. Kayla was born almost four months premature. She weighed 1 pounds at birth and had five operations before she ever went home. She's had three more operations since then.
And they were all major surgeries, Bobby said.
"She's had more than her share of hospitals," Susie said. "She's a miracle to be here."
Surgeries and treatment have helped Kayla some, Bobby said. She has had physical therapy since she was 3 to help with gross motor skills, and occupational therapy to help with fine motor skills. She had surgery in St. Louis in April 2001, which has helped give her more control of her legs.
She also has hippotherapy treatment done in conjunction with horse riding with the Hi-Line Therapeutic Riding Association, and has been swimming this summer.
"This summer saw a lot of improvement over the last three months," Susie said.
Kayla also likes to ride at her family's ranch on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, and recently had a new addition to her horses. She received a Shetland pony from Personal Ponies, an organization that donates Shetland ponies to people with disabilities. Kathie Leeds of HILTRA is the state director of Personal Ponies.
Kayla stays active, including her riding and playing wheelchair basketball. She has a powered wheelchair as well as a manual wheelchair, Bobby said. The powered wheelchair lets her move very quickly.
"That thing's a little dangerous, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Although the doctors from Euromed wouldn't give a chance of success, they are excited about having Kayla come, Susie said. The brain injury that affected her motor skills didn't affect her cognitive ability, which increases the chance of success.
Susie said she was concerned at first that the doctors might not let them know if the chance for success was very limited. Since the treatment is not approved in the United States, the LaSalles' insurance won't cover it. Susie didn't want to spend the $15,000 if it couldn't help. Her concerns were unfounded, she said, since the purpose of the screening is to keep children from going to Poland if the treatment is unlikely to help.
The procedure is a mixture of cold and hot packs, massage, electromagnetic stimulation, physical therapy and the use of something called the Adeli suit.
The procedure includes therapy six hours a day, six days a week, for 28 days. The LaSalles leave Oct. 15 and return Nov. 15.
The therapy, and resting up from it, won't leave much time for anything else, Bobby said.
"There won't be much sightseeing," he said.
The main part of the treatment at Euromed is the work done with the Adeli suit, based on the Penguin designed for the Soviet space program in 1971. The Penguin was used to prevent loss of muscle tone and control in cosmonauts caused by the lack of muscle use in zero-gravity conditions.
The Adeli suit provides additional weight of 30 to 80 pounds on the child and provides extra stimulation and control over muscles during therapy. It helps retrain the brain in how to use the muscles. That ability is strengthened later in a rehabilitation process.
The suit is made of a system of elastic cords attached to a wide belt, with connected knee pads and shoes. It helps regulate the additional weight being put on each part of the patient's body, and helps correct posture, mirroring the actual arrangement of muscles on the body.
It is a difficult program to get into. Children from around the world are treated at Euromed, but only 50 are accepted for each month's treatment period. Kayla was accepted for treatment in April, but October was the earliest she could get in, Bobby said. And there might be more trips.
The process shows greater success after repeat treatments. Bobby said if Kayla shows improvement, she could be approved for a second or third round of treatment.
Kayla's grandmother, Jenny LaSalle, echoed Susie's hope for Kayla's treatment at Euromed.
"She's a brave little girl and she's so determined in everything she does. I think it will improve," Jenny said.