Carla was born with a serious blood disorder that left her vulnerable to repeated mini-strokes. But despite her illness, Carla lived life to the fullest in her native Dominican Republic. She enjoyed going to school, running outside, and playing with friends. That all changed the year Carla turned 10 and suffered a major stroke that dramatically altered her life. Carla was left unable to speak or walk. She could no longer attend school and had completely stopped trying to use her right hand, which had been weakened by the last stroke.
Carla’s mother brought her family to the United States, where she was able to find help for her daughter. Carla received life-saving brain surgery to help prevent future strokes and was brought to the Traumatic Brain Injury Unit (TBI) of St. Mary’s Hospital for Children for intensive rehabilitation.
St. Mary’s TBI team worked with Carla to break through the silence and her resistance to move. At first communication was difficult. But before long Carla started to respond and show improvement. To strengthen her neglected right arm, she was given a rigorous course of rehabilitation therapies, including a modified introduction to Constraint Induced Movement Therapy, a technique in which her left arm was restrained, forcing Carla to use her affected arm. The innovative staff at St. Mary’s looked for ways to motivate Carla to continue on her path to recovery. They soon found their answer.
Her hard work has paid off. After nearly 10 months of intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapies, Carla took her first steps in nearly two years. She is speaking again – now in Spanish and English. And she is using her right hand more often in everyday activities.
In addition, part of Carla’s recovery includes the opportunity to engage in social and educational activities that had been abruptly curtailed by her strokes. She is busy making up for lost time – making friends, attending off-campus activities, and attending on-campus public school. She can be found on the playground, joining in the fun rather than sitting on the sidelines.
Like most 12-year old girls, Carla enjoys a day at the beauty salon. That’s all the therapists at St. Mary’s needed to know. Carla now earns “beauty bucks” for her progress in therapy at St. Mary’s, which can be redeemed for a visit to the beauty parlor. The “beauty bucks” reinforcement program keeps Carla on her toes as well as looking her best.