Posted on August 24, 2023
Teenager with Cerebral Palsy Breaks Barriers and Inspires us All
Loralei DeHoek is a thrill seeker.
At age 15, she’s just begun her freshman year at Caledonia High School. Looking back, her summer was one for the books.
If you can keep up with her busy teenage schedule, you’ll find Loralei sailing on Reeds Lake, kayaking with friends, competing in Miracle League baseball, playing dodgeball at camp, and ziplining for thrills.
And that’s just in the summer.
“I might try sled hockey this year,” she said. “I could also try golf, but that might not be fast-paced enough for me.”
Loralei’s active lifestyle is particularly impressive because she uses a wheelchair.
Growing up with CP and Mary Free Bed
The DeHoek family began bringing Loralei to pediatric outpatient therapy at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids when she was just 6 months old.
Showing signs of neurodevelopmental delay, she had regular outpatient therapy several days a week. At 2.5 years old, she was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy (CP) and neuromuscular scoliosis.
She’s continued her therapy with the Mary Free Bed Kids Cerebral Palsy program ever since.
Therapy for Cerebral Palsy and Scoliosis
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children. CP can cause differences in movement, posture and balance. It can also affect vision, hearing, speech and cognition. Scoliosis causes an irregular curvature of the spine and can be associated with disorders of the nerve or muscular systems.
“Like any of our diagnoses, our goals are always individualized to the patient and their family,” said Andrea Dennis, Mary Free Bed physical therapist and outpatient pediatric program manager. “We’re able to somewhat anticipate future needs of a child with CP and establish goals accordingly.”
Surgery at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
In 2019, Loralei had surgery with Dr. Michael Forness at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to help improve her decreasing mobility and manage pain. She then spent six weeks recovering in the Mary Free Bed Kids Pediatric Inpatient program with intense physical and occupational therapy.
Four years later, Loralei continues to make incredible strides and inspire those around her. The DeHoeks come to Mary Free Bed for regular outpatient therapy. Her rehabilitation team, led by physiatrist Dr. Andrea Kuldanek, focuses on an individualized program including occupational and physical therapy.
Learning from Loralei
Loralei is motivated to develop the skills, strength and mobility she needs to be more independent at home, school and in the community. Being actively involved in Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports clinics and camps helps diversify her therapy, meet friends and explore activities she might not otherwise have the chance to try.
“Loralei has taught me so many things,” said Andrea, who has been her physical therapist for 12 years.
“She’s pushed me as a therapist to continue to develop engaging, meaningful goals and interventions as her needs have changed. She’s taught me a lot about what it is like growing up with cerebral palsy and that hard work and determination really do pay off.”
Most of all, Loralei loves to show off … her horses, that is.
An avid lover of horses and active equestrian, she’s motivated to gain the strength and skills she needs to independently ride and show horses. She’s been on her school equestrian team for three years, and she’ll join the team at Caledonia High School.
In July, Loralei was front and center at the Kent County Youth Fair. This was her 6th year showing horses with the Kent County 4-H program. Last year, she was selected to serve on the Kent County Youth Fair Royal Court.
“She was on float in the parade,” said her mom, Kaeta. “It’s so fun to see other kids in wheelchairs get excited when they see Loralei. It’s not every day they see someone so active that looks like them.”
An Inspiring Teen with a Bright Future Ahead
As part of Loralei’s role on Royal Court, she spent the year being actively involved in community outreach – making new friends and inspiring others with her lively resilience and unstoppable energy.
“She definitely keeps us going,” said Kaeta. “She wouldn’t be where she is without Mary Free Bed. Her team helps build a foundation in order for her to gain strength and do the extracurricular activities that she wants to do.”
We’re sure Loralei has plenty of adventures and thrills yet to discover in high school and beyond, and Mary Free Bed is honored to be part of her rehabilitation journey.