Accessibility

I want to find

Close

A Baby's Best Friend

A Babys Best Friend

How a Therapy Dog Helped One Little Girl Recover Her Strength

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, known as RSV, is an infection in the respiratory tract that can lead to serious problems. It’s always a matter of concern when a baby gets it, but is even more so when the child has an underlying medical condition.

That was the case for little Ava Finelli, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease affecting part of the nervous system that leads to weakness in the limbs. Children with SMA have weak intercostal (between the ribs) muscles, and underdeveloped lungs and chest muscles. When Ava contracted RSV in January 2018 at not quite 2 years old, she could not cough strongly enough to rid her airways of mucus. She had trouble swallowing, and became weaker, struggling to lift her head and move her arms and legs.

Ava was sent to Children’s Specialized Hospital for treatment. “She had an intensive therapy program,” says Michele Fantasia, MD, the psychiatrist and specialist in pediatric rehabilitation medicine who oversaw the plan. After several weeks of respiratory, physical, occupational and pool therapy, Ava showed remarkable progress and was able to lift her head and to better move her arms and legs. “It was incredible to see the progress Ava made in such a short time,” her mother, Laura, says.

“These kids require a whole team, and we’re very well versed in treating children with respiratory issues as well as various neuromuscular disorders,” says Dr. Fantasia. The doctor acknowledges that the team also had a secret weapon: Burton: a 2-year-old therapy dog. “She loooved Burton,” she says.

EYES ON BURTON

During therapy sessions, Burton would position himself across from Ava so that she could work on stretching and moving her arms to reach him. He ran back and forth across the room so that she’d work on turning her head from side to side. Because Ava focused so intently on Burton, her therapy sessions were eased.

“Burton was her motivator,” Laura says. “He’s so friendly and energetic, he really helped her forget how difficult the movements were.”

Ava was discharged after two months. She continues to get outpatient therapy and to take Spinraza, a promising new medication for SMA. “She did very well with us overall,” Dr. Fantasia reports, “and was able to go back to her home, family, and typical toddler activities.”

For more information about Children’s Specialized Hospital, call 888.244.5373 or visit www.childrens-specialized.org.