Gabi Schopperth is a typical preschooler, reciting the alphabet, professing her love of Care Bears and fascination with fairies. Three months ago, she couldn't even sit up.
On Jan. 24, 2011, Gabi's characteristic world was rocked when she suffered a stroke at her grandparents’ home in Galva, Iowa. Gabi stumbled and cried out, "Ow! My head hurts!" and quickly became unresponsive. Gabi's mother, Amy, rushed her daughter to a hospital in nearby Storm Lake where doctors assessed Gabi and a helicopter brought her to Children's Hospital in Omaha, Neb.
Two days later, doctors operated to relieve the pressure of Gabi's swelling brain. The pediatric intensive care unit was Gabi's home until she arrived at Madonna on Feb. 10, 2011.
The stroke had affected the right side of Gabi's body and the preschooler who loved running and climbing was now unable to walk. "My arm is dead," proclaimed Gabi as her right arm dangled limply. Slurred words tumbled out of the youngster's mouth, frustrating her into silence.
The incidence of stroke in children younger than 15 years old is about 6 cases in every 100,000 children per year.1 Amy Goldman, stroke program manager, said strokes usually occur for different reasons compared to adults, including birth defects, infections, trauma, and blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease. Doctors were baffled as to what caused Gabi's stroke and she is currently undergoing genetic testing, as will her twin sister, Chloe. "The good news is a child's brain is still developing and is better able to heal itself compared to older adults," said Amy.
Gabi's Madonna team put together an individualized, creative therapy program to help the youngster recover. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) activated the weakened muscles in Gabi's right hand and arm. Kelly Myers, occupational therapist, said the NMES helped open up Gabi's wrist, so she could once again grasp favorite toys. Kelly stimulated Gabi's bicep and tricep to prepare her for feeding herself and brushing her teeth.
Speech language therapy provided Gabi with activities to rediscover the colors, shapes, numbers and letters she'd known since age two.
Therapy, under the guise of playtime, strengthened Gabi's damaged arm. The young model held a mock fashion show, wearing a new skirt that had "wings" attached to her arms. Much to her delight, when Gabi lifted her arms, she simulated flying like a butterfly through the unit. Her mom said it was apparent the staff is expertly trained to deal with children. "Kids aren't little adults, they're kids and Madonna does a great job relating therapy to their level," said Amy.
The Snoezelen room, a multi-sensory environment, provided novelty and fun to Gabi's rehabilitation program. "Gabi loved manipulating the fiber-optic rope lights and the bubble tube; both of which I encouraged her to use with her right hand," said Kelly.
The Lokomat, a robotic gait training device, helped Gabi relearn walking skills and regain confidence with gross motor skills.
Gabi's father Nick is in the Air Force and saw Gabi before and after her rehabilitation. "Initially, she could not walk, turn over or sit up," said Nick. "At Madonna, Gabi relearned how to do all that and more. Simply amazing!"
Amy encouraged other families in a similar situation to stay positive and realistic. "How you accept it makes all the difference to your child's care and progression."
Gabi has relocated with her family to San Antonio, Tex., and according to her mother, is "just as sassy as before." Gabi continues to grow in strength and confidence. "We are very proud of her."
1Source: National Stroke Association