In the pool and on the move, Jensen Miles made waves at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals. An active 4-year-old from O’Neill, Nebraska, Jensen’s joys are being outside and watching his favorite TV show, "Paw Patrol." But in May of 2022, Jensen’s parents, Jennifer and Alex, knew something was wrong.
“He woke up, and he wouldn’t sit up,” Jennifer recalled. “Obviously, his legs hurt, and he couldn’t walk. He couldn’t hold up his silverware to eat breakfast, so that’s when we knew something was definitely not right.”
Doctors at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha later diagnosed Jensen with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Also known as GBS, a condition where the immune system attacks the body’s nerves.
“It was disbelief at first,” Jennifer said. “Seeing his symptoms and how he was acting, we knew something was wrong. Such a rare condition seemed a little unbelievable.”
After a short stay at Boys Town, Jensen transferred to Madonna’s pediatric rehabilitation specialty program. As Nebraska natives, Jennifer and Alex knew Madonna was the place for their son.
“Having the recommendation of going to Madonna made sense,” Jennifer said. “We knew that we needed to be here for Jensen to recover fully.”
The recovery process started slow, but within a few weeks, Jensen became the talk of the hospital’s pediatric unit. Using Madonna’s specialized technology fit for kids, Jensen got back on his feet and started walking, first on the treadmill and later in the water. Madonna offers warm water aquatic therapy to help patients activate their core muscles.
“It made his legs be able to move freely and feel weightless,” Alex said. “You can tell when he got into the pool he was slowly starting to move his legs a little bit more and more each time. That really helped with physical and occupational therapy.”
Some of those therapies were led by Kelly Bolz, Madonna’s inpatient pediatric program leader. During their time in occupational therapy, Jensen and Kelly bonded over a variety of activities, including making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“Sometimes, we would have an activity planned, and he would not like that one for the day. So, we went to plan B because it’s more important for a patient to take interest in an activity, then we work to make it therapeutic for them,” Bolz said. “So if he wanted to make a cupcake that day, that’s what we did. Or if he wanted to play a certain game, we got that game out. As a therapist, we can figure out how to position him and how to work for strength or coordination. He gets to be in the lead for what we’re doing and the therapists get to be in the lead for making it beneficial and therapeutic for him.”
Jennifer and Alex were often on hand to watch Jensen’s therapies and appreciated how Bolz and the other therapists gained the little boy’s trust.
“I think by using his interests, it broke down the barriers and some of those hesitations,” Jennifer said. “She knew his triggers and when to push him or let him have his way. That helped blossom their relationship and gave him the encouragement to know that she was there to help him.”
Bolz agreed that building trust is a critical first step in relationship-building with any patient, especially when children are involved.
“For Jensen, it’s very important because he’s young and he was very nervous,” Bolz said. “We really had to take it step by step and build rapport and gain his trust so he knew the next time he came to the gym, it was going to be a good time, and we could progress from there.”
Now back home, Jensen proved, like the "Paw Patrol" characters he loves so much, that no adversity is too big and no little boy is too small. Jensen’s journey at Madonna is a memorable one, something his family and his care team will never forget.
“You can’t put a word on it, but he is so much better,” Jennifer said. “He can walk with a help of a walker, which is a huge feat considering when we got here, he was just lying on his back the whole time.”