Feature Stories

by Laura Thornton • November 28, 2017
Ninth-grader Mikey, who has autism, thrives on the individualized educational programming his Kennedy Krieger teachers provide.
Mikey stands outside Kennedy Krieger High School, with a black backpack on his back.

Mikey loves keeping busy. He loves music videos and video games. He loves the rides at amusement parks and riding on airplanes. He loves to dance, and he’s fascinated by news tickers. He reads every word as it slides across the bottom of the television screen.

He’s quick, too. Every morning, when he gets to his classroom at Kennedy Krieger High School, he pulls out his binder and gets right to work, sometimes completing activities before his teachers have the next ones ready.

He thrives on routine, and on checking off tasks as he finishes them. He’s very curious: He loves walking through the school, seeing what everyone is up to as he heads down locker-filled hallways to the library, cafeteria or school store.

And he takes pride in himself and in his work. When another student receives praise for an activity or task, Mikey—not to be outdone—quickly finishes the same task with intentional perfection. The praise he receives encourages him to put his best foot forward as he starts his next task.

It’s the perfect school environment for Mikey, but it’s not how things started out.

by Laura Thornton • November 28, 2017
After spinal surgery followed by a year of intense physical therapy, Nathaniel is walking better than ever.
Nathaniel walks with his mom, Jill, in Kennedy Krieger’s therapeutic garden.

This past summer, 8-year-old Nathaniel went to the beach. Running along the surf, kicking up sand and splashing in the water, Nathaniel would have seemed,
to a passing stranger, like any other kid having fun.

But it wasn’t an ordinary beach trip. For the first time, Nathaniel was playing in the water without having to be extra careful not to fall down.

Nathaniel has cerebral palsy. The condition affects his legs and feet, making them stiff. Up until a special surgery he had a little more than a year ago, he would occasionally have difficulty straightening out his legs; his ankles, especially the left one, didn’t always bend. Without leg braces, he’d walk on tip-toe—a little on his right, more so on his left, with his left foot often turned in. He couldn’t run as fast as his friends.

by Laura Thornton • November 28, 2017
Karam and his parents moved almost halfway around the world so he could receive medical care at Kennedy Krieger.
At Kennedy Krieger’s outpatient center, physical therapist Brittany Hornby helps Karam walk with the aid of a walker.

Karam loves school, swimming and his bright green iPad.

It’s a captivating device for the 6-year-old, who understands English and Arabic but can only speak a few words of each. He uses his iPad to watch educational cartoons and listen to songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

Karam’s parents, Dana and Ousama, use the iPad to motivate their son to do his therapy. One day last August, as Karam, gripping the handles of a small walker, slowly made his way across a therapy gym at Kennedy Krieger Institute, his dad sat on a rolling stool a few feet away, holding up Karam’s treasured possession and scooting backward as Karam got ever closer to the target.

How a team of specialists—and a loving family—helped a little girl heal in body and spirit.

Ask 7-year-old Kat what she wants to do when she grows up, and she’ll tell you, as if on cue, “To help hurting children and make them happy!”

Kat—short for Katarina—knows a lot about being happy. She loves playing with her friends, dancing, gymnastics, Legos, animals, the beach, and her close-knit family, which includes three doting older sisters.

But Kat also knows about hurting. Just before Christmas 2015—only a day before she turned 6—she was attacked by two large dogs. The unprovoked attack ripped all five nerves that extend down the length of her left arm from their roots, paralyzing the arm. It also injured her spinal cord, fractured her skull and left her with wounds all over her body.

by Christianna McCausland • July 28, 2017
Finding resilience and hope at the Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress.

In many ways, Zyaira is like most 9-year-old girls. She loves to ride her bike, roller-skate and do her own hair. She likes to help her mom cook—grilled cheese is a favorite. But when she came to Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress in 2013, she was a very different child.

After witnessing her father have a massive heart attack, she and her mother, Charisse, moved to Baltimore from rural Virginia. Soon, Zyaira’s concerns over her father’s health were compounded by separation anxiety and difficulty adjusting to a city school. Shy by nature, Zyaira would be reserved and quiet, and then have uncontrollable temper tantrums. She was afraid to sleep alone at night, and she talked in a baby voice when stressed.
 

AFM took away Sebastian’s ability to walk, but he’s fighting back—superhero-style—one step at a time.

AFM took away Sebastian’s ability to walk, but he’s fighting back—superhero-style—one step at a time.

Ask Sebastian what he wants to be when he grows up, and he’ll tell you: “A warrior!”

It’s a fitting aspiration for a boy named after the patron saint of soldiers. But Sebastian is already a warrior. He fights every day to walk, gain strength, redevelop motor skills, and get back to the business of being a 6-year-old after developing acute flaccid myelitis (also known as AFM) last August.

by Kristina Rolfes • December 05, 2016
Unable to eat on their own for their first three years of life, these quadruplets overcame their feeding disorders with the help of specialists at the Instiute.
The quadruplets

It seems like an obvious fact of life: if a child is hungry enough, he will eat. Yet for some children with a history of prematurity or developmental disorders, eating is a skill that does not develop automatically.

When quadruplets Timmy, Edda, Lily, and Wyatt were born prematurely at 24 weeks’ gestation, their parents, Anne and Rob, knew their babies would face continuing medical complications. But they didn’t anticipate how much of a struggle the simple act of eating would be.

by Kristina Rolfes • December 05, 2016
Born severely premature, Morgan, now 12, is thriving in school and in life, thanks in part to developmental specialists at Kennedy Krieger.

For Beth Vester and her daughter Morgan, 12, the NICU Follow-up Clinic at Kennedy Krieger Institute has been a steady source of guidance and support over the years. Morgan was born 14 weeks early, weighing just 1 lb.,10 oz., and spent six weeks in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) of a nearby hospital. Morgan’s pediatrician recommended follow-up care at Kennedy Krieger.

by Kristina Rolfes • December 05, 2016
Scientists at Kennedy Krieger search for the key to curing Ellie, while keeping her symptoms at bay.
Ellie's Cure 1A

Ellie McGinn is an adorably sweet and charming third-grader from Arlington, Va., who has a progressive neurological disease known as LBSL. Although there is currently no cure or long-term treatment, researchers at Kennedy Krieger are working with her family to find the key to curing Ellie, while keeping her symptoms at bay.

When Ellie was a toddler, she began falling down and suffering from pain and fatigue. Her parents, Michael and Beth McGinn, took her to multiple specialists to find out what was wrong. Neurologists were perplexed—none had seen a case like Ellie’s. Over the next six months, Ellie’s ability to walk deteriorated. When a doctor finally diagnosed her, the news was grim. Ellie had a rare, neurodegenerative disorder known as LBSL (short for leukoencephalopathy with brainstem and spinal cord involvement and lactate elevation).

Kristina Rolfes • June 28, 2016
From Bangladesh to Baltimore, Sariyya learns to 'speak' through eye gaze system.
Sariyya smiling

On the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, you can hear the laughter and voices of schoolchildren bubbling through the open windows. One child, 7-year-old Sariyya, is quiet. Though no sound leaves her lips, she is communicating with her teacher. In front of her, on the tray of her wheelchair, lies a book of pictures. Sariyya’s gaze shifts from her teacher to the book before her, and back to her teacher. The teacher looks at the image of the cup in the book, and asks, “Sariyya, are you thirsty?” Sariyya’s gaze moves to the word “yes.”

It is a simple, yet ingenious eye-gaze communication system designed specifically for Sariyya by a speech-language pathologist at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

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