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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Madonna team incorporates fun and play into young cancer survivor’s rehab

January 04, 2019

 Patrick Melia has never laid eyes on his young son using the Lokomat, but says Aiden's vivid description of the specialized piece of equipment gives dad the ability to describe it perfectly. “It’s got a little screen and it’s got little coins that he’s going after and he’s like, ‘I’m a robot!’ and he’s going after them. He loves that machine.”

At 6-years-old, Aiden is imaginative. Playful. Loves Captain America, robots and playing pretend. But this superhero is facing a real life battle. Diagnosed with Posterior Fossa medullablastoma in February 2018, surgeons removed tumors on his brain stem and his spine. Aiden left Omaha for specialized cancer treatment and when he returned home, needed rehabilitation at Madonna's Omaha Campus to regain strength and mobility.

“He’s fought through everything. His body not working the way it’s supposed and hospital stay after hospital stay,” said Patrick.

Patrick said equipment customized to Aiden’s small size combined with a knowledgeable care team helped his son thrive. One of the side effects of Aiden’s chemotherapy treatment left him feeling sick and made his anxious about trying new foods. Speech-language pathologist Rachel Stonacek incorporated therapeutic techniques, structured mealtimes and also tapped into Aiden’s love of pandas to help him overcome his fear. “He loved wearing his panda mask. So I said, ‘Let’s do it during our mealtime.’ We wore our panda masks and we would eat like pandas and take big panda smells and little panda smells and use our paws to play with the food. It really took away the anxiety for him.”

Along with speech, Aiden had physical, occupational and warm water pool therapy. Each day standing up to the challenges his care team presented him with courage and resilience. Patrick said the care team gave him confidence at the same time helping him see, “It’s going to be hard work and it’s not easy, but he can do it by pushing himself.”

Before leaving for home, Aiden received his own shield in the form of a Madonna Spirit Award for his hard work. “Aiden has a lot of great strengths that are going to help him continue to make progress,” said Rachel. “His attitude, his personality, he’s just a super happy fun loving kid that wants to do well and he wants to keep up with his peers.

Learn more about Madonna's specialized pediatric program.