Posted on October 3, 2019

Divya’s new adventures a year after traveling from India for surgery, rehabilitation

UPDATE Oct. 3, 2019: A year ago, Divya Harkema couldn’t stand by herself. Today, she swims and rides horses in her native India.

Merissa Harkema brought her adopted daughter to Grand Rapids in September 2018 for surgery to reduce problems caused by spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital was one of a limited number of children’s hospitals in the United States to offer the selective dorsal rhizotomy procedure. After the surgery, Divya spent eight weeks at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital gaining strength, before heading back home to India.

Merissa and Divya, now six years old, returned to Michigan in September 2019 to visit family and check in with her Mary Free Bed physical therapist, Jennifer Kampfschulte. When Divya graduated last year from outpatient therapy, she could stand just nine seconds without support. She’s made significant gains since then.

“I would say her surgery and rehabilitation have definitely been a success,” Jennifer said. “Merissa has put in a lot of hard work into getting Divya what she’s needed over the past year. She’s gained a lot of confidence.”

During her visit, Divya participated in several therapy sessions with Jennifer while balancing outings with her Michigan family.

“It’s great to see that she can participate with her cousins and have fun and play,” Jennifer said.

Divya will continue with occasional outpatient therapy and her rehabilitation team will follow her progress in Mary Free Bed’s spasticity clinic, she said.

Watch this video for a look at “Divya’s new adventures.”

Original Post December 18, 2018 – Divya’s story highlights collaboration between Mary Free Bed, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

Divya Harkema has a joy-filled smile that melts hearts and the power of love from a young mother intent on creating the best life for her daughter.

Five-year-old Divya was born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, which affects her legs. She was living at Sarah’s Covenant Homes, an organization in Hyderabad, India, that provides group foster care for children with disabilities. That’s where she and Merissa Harkema met.

Merissa, 27, is a Hudsonville, Michigan native who moved to Hyderabad after she completed graduate school. An occupational therapist, Merissa wanted to use her skills to help children in need and began working at Sarah’s Covenant Homes. She also decided to become a family to a child without one, and chose to adopt Divya.

Long before the adoption was final, Merissa began researching if Divya would be a candidate for selective dorsal rhizotomy. The life-changing procedure to reduce muscle spasticity and improve movement is offered at a limited number of children’s hospitals in the United States.

“As I researched, I realized this surgery would help Divya’s mobility and joint health more than any treatment I could obtain for her in India,” Merissa said. “I was determined to find a way for her to receive it as soon as possible, not years down the road when she would reap less benefit from it.

“Divya had already missed out on so much care the first years of her life. I couldn’t bear for this surgery to be yet another thing she needed but couldn’t receive. I am so thankful to everyone who responded to Divya’s need and gave us hope, even though we were half a world away.”

This video chronicles the journey that brought Divya and Merissa from India to Grand Rapids, where the procedure was performed Sept. 21 at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Three days later, Divya transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and participated in eight weeks of specialized, intensive rehabilitation. The video also highlights the important collaborative partnership between the two hospitals.