Nine-year-old Jack Stoner smiles a lot these days. He’s often setting aside his wheeled walker in favor of crutches and even endeavoring to take a few steps without the aid of either.
“My toes are forward. It’s easier to walk and I can go faster,” he says.
In early October, Jack underwent a selective dorsal rhizotomy at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. During the surgery, designed to at least partially counter the effects of Jack’s cerebral palsy, doctors tested the nerve roots in his lower spine and cut the ones that were malfunctioning and contributing to the spasticity and muscle stiffness in his lower body.
The surgery is part of the Advanced Management of Pediatric Spasticity (AMPS) program, a collaboration between Mary Free Bed and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to help children with cerebral palsy and other maladies that limit mobility.
As a result, Jack’s movement is much less restricted. He’s nearing the end of two months of physical and occupational therapy at Mary Free Bed, where he has worked hard to strengthen the muscles in his legs and to walk with a more normal gait.
“Now he’s learning to use his legs the way other people do. And it’s with much less effort,” says Jack’s mom, Courtney. “He no longer has to swing his leg to the side and drag his foot. It’s like he has new legs.”
“The rehabilitation is like athletic training; there is lots of repetition. We don’t want patients to fall back into their old habits,” says Dr. Andrea Kuldanek, medical director of the Child and Adolescent Rehabilitation Program at Mary Free Bed.
Plus, doctors and therapists predict Jack will continue to get stronger.
“Within a year or so, he might be able to walk short distances without assistance, which is huge,” his mom says.
In the shorter term, Jack is eager for the day when he can move about his house and classroom with one cane instead of a walker. That means he’ll be able to carry a book or a dinner plate, too. He also can stand and balance more easily and is able to lift himself up from a sitting position, his mom says.
The determination shows on his face as he works with physical therapist Jenny Taylor.
“Your boss is going to be mad because I’m doing all the work,” Jack tells her.