Christian Thomas: Zen & The Art of Healing

December 02, 2014
One patient’s journey from diagnosis to top of the dojo
Christian at karate



Christian Thomas, 13, who last appeared in Potential when he was four, is now a black belt in karate. It’s a rigorous accomplishment that requires multiple mile runs, sparring matches, and memorization of martial arts moves. His achievement is all the more remarkable when one considers that Christian was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus at birth. His parents were told he would likely have difficulty using his left arm and leg.

When Christian was a toddler, his parents, Steven and Elena, learned about constraint-induced and bimanual therapy (CIMT), a pediatric rehabilitation program directed by Frank S. Pidcock, M.D. Children like Christian who have one hand or arm that is stronger than the other will naturally favor the stronger limb. CIMT places a cast on the stronger extremity and engages the under-utilized limb in occupational and physical therapy using play-based, intensive practice in gradually more challenging ways. For some patients, complementary therapy techniques such as electrical stimulation and robotic devices are also used to help improve strength and function.

Steven says they saw results from Christian’s CIMT immediately over a family vacation. “He was able to use his left, weaker hand to push the cast off so he could go swimming in the lake with his sister,” he recalls. “That evening he ate with his left hand, which he had never done in the past.”

Christian ThomasChristian, age 4, during therapy
at Kennedy Krieger

When Christian began the CIMT program, he had little use of his left side. After CIMT, he had the building blocks to grow his mobility. A karate-themed birthday party first ignited Christian’s passion for martial arts. Christian suggested that his doctors be invited to the ceremony when he attained the black belt.

“The doctors and therapists at Kennedy Krieger have been an integral part of Christian’s progress,” says Elena. “He worked very hard; however, the doctors and therapists also worked hard in helping him progress and meet his goals.”

Steven, Elena, and their daughter have each achieved the black belt rank, so they know the physical and mental challenges that must be met to wear the belt. “We were overcome with emotion when Sensei tied his new white gi and black belt around Christian’s body,” says Steven.

Christian ThomasChristian with Dr. Pidcock at his black belt ceremony.

Dr. Pidcock was there to share the moment. “I was very happy to be there, and proud of all the hard work that Christian and his family had done,” he says.

Christian no longer receives physical or occupational therapy, although he is still followed by Dr. Pidcock. The longevity and depth of the relationship between the Thomas family and Christian’s team of doctors and therapists speaks to the heart of what makes care at the Institute so unique.

Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., Named President and CEO of Kennedy Krieger Institute

We’re thrilled to welcome Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., to the Kennedy Krieger family as our next President and CEO.
Learn more.


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