Changing Course for Children with Paralysis

In Louisville, Kentucky, a pediatric neurorecovery team is making unprecedented strides in reversing the once permanent effects of paralysis.

Leading this effort is Dr. Andrea Behrman, professor of neurological surgery at the University of Louisville. She helped bring locomotor training to the University’s Frazier Rehab Institute with a keen interest in applying the intensive therapy to the most vulnerable victims of paralysis: children.

Dr. Behrman and her team are giving families hope.  Hope that, even in the face of catastrophic injury, a child can achieve the truly miraculous.

Trustee John Codey

For most youngsters who sustain spinal cord injuries at a very early age, the existing rehabilitation options fail to meet parents’ ambitious goals for their children to regain some movement during a most critical age of growth. In contrast, Dr. Behrman’s locomotor training therapy is enabling young patients to sit independently, stand and even walk again, while further improving other crucial systems of respiration, bladder control and sensation. By activating the neuromuscular system below the site of the injury, locomotor training is already showing promise to have a dramatic effect on the negative, long-term complications associated with childhood paralysis. 

VIDEO: The University of Louisville follows the transformation of Emmalie, a four-year-old girl learning to stand on her own with the intensive therapy developed by the pediatric spinal cord injury research program.

Amy Smith, mother of a child who suffered a severe spinal cord injury at just three months of age, is seeing more success in her daughter Emmalie’s growth and development than she could have imagined. Less than a year after beginning the intense, activity-based locomotor training at the University of Louisville, Emmalie is gaining movement in her arms, is able to use a manual wheelchair, and is now beginning to stand.

David L. Dunn, the University of Louisville’s executive vice president of health affairs, emphasized the significance of philanthropic support in accelerating the development of innovative therapies and clinical care. “We couldn’t be doing what we’re doing without this public-private partnership,” he said of the recent $1.5 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. In a time of diminishing federal funding, the Trust provides critical support for promising research activities that, in the past, would have received greater funding from federal programs.

With the recent award, Dr. Behrman hopes her work with spinal cord injuries can eventually expand to patients with other conditions such as head trauma and tumors.

Dr. Behrman’s work is just one example of the groundbreaking research taking place at the University. The Trust has provided nearly $16.5 million to support its research of both cancer therapies and cutting-edge rehabilitation for adults and children living with paralysis.