Patrick C A Step in the Right Direction

It was hard being in the hospital for so long, but we were grateful that CSH allowed parents to stay. The hospital had a family lounge, game nights, and lots of ways to keep the parents informed. We had weekly meetings with his care team and received daily updates. I could even work out of the hospital and commute into the city since the train is within walking distance. We were making the best of a poor situation.

Eleven-year-old Patrick Cahill loved playing sports and being active. It wasn’t until his parents, Laura and Kevin, noticed that he was running a “little funny” and couldn’t stretch down to pick up a ball. “We just thought Patrick was a bigger kid, and he was growing into his body. We thought he just wasn’t very flexible,” added Kevin. However, Patrick proceeded to get progressively worse during 2022. He began complaining about pain in his hamstrings and occasionally his knees. “We started getting really worried because it wasn’t just at sports anymore. It was at home. Patrick would get off the couch and walk with his knees bent and on his toes.”

Laura and Kevin decided to take him to a local doctor. “We assumed he needed to do some stretches to get back on track, but we wanted to get a professional opinion,” said Kevin. The doctor confirmed that Patrick’s hamstrings were tight and he might benefit from physical therapy. His parents brought him to a local physical therapist, where he went for about six weeks. “There was no improvement with physical therapy, and Patrick started complaining about back pain. The therapist suggested seeing an orthopedic doctor.”

Patrick Cahill“The orthopedic doctor knew right away what this was but took x-rays to confirm the diagnosis and grade of the slip.” Patrick was diagnosed with Grade IV Spondylolisthesis of the L5-S1 vertebrae. Spondylolisthesis is a condition involving spine instability, which means the vertebrae move more than they should. Given the high grade, Patrick required surgery to help correct and alleviate his pain. He went to a local hospital a few months after his diagnosis, where they partially corrected him by performing a Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody fusion (TLIF) with a reduction in an attempt to correct the slip of his vertebrae. “The doctors tried to correct and fuse together with rods and screws. This type of surgery needed a lot of time to heal,” noted Kevin.

“We expected to be in the hospital for about 5 days, then go home to finish healing. Plans changed. A few days after surgery, Patrick’s legs were still weak and tight, especially his left leg. Although the pain was gone, he favored one side and would swing his body using his walker. This was unexpected after surgery.” Patrick needed to stay at the hospital and undergo additional surgery to ensure nothing else was wrong. “Since he had a lot of trouble walking, his doctor and physical therapist said it would be best to go to an inpatient rehab where he can get intense daily physical therapy. They all suggested Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH), even a family we met at the hospital told us great things about CSH,” highlighted Kevin. The Cahill family stayed in the hospital with Patrick for 2 weeks and then came to CSH for inpatient rehab.

Inpatient Therapy

Patrick CahillDuring Patrick’s inpatient stay, he received daily physical therapy, recreational therapy and occupational therapy sessions to help get him comfortably moving. “Patrick’s emotional state wasn’t great when we first got to CSH. We expected to only be in the hospital for 5 days, and it turned into weeks, but the structure of CSH seemed so much better than being in a regular hospital,” said Kevin. “It kept Patrick and his mind occupied as he was focusing on the task of getting better.”

Patrick enjoyed his daily therapy sessions, especially when they were tailored toward activities he liked. When the weather started getting warmer, he could go outside and play basketball. “This was great because it was geared towards what he needed to work on,” added Kevin.

Patrick’s physical therapist, Marissa Corveleyn, stated, “Patrick was one of the sweetest kids I have ever met! He was admitted to CSH after spinal surgery, presenting with significant balance and gait deficits. He required a polling walker and demonstrated difficulty getting his heels down during ambulation, poor hip extension, and trunk rotation. Despite his struggles, Patrick was more than willing to try any intervention we thought would help, including the Zero G, electrical stimulation, and walking barefoot to improve his proprioception.”

Occupational therapist, Alexis Levine, added, “When Patrick first arrived at CSH, he demonstrated difficulty with his generalized strength and endurance, balance, weight-bearing into his lower extremities, and flexibility which limited his mobility, completion of self-care skills, and participation in preferred activities. He shared with me that one of the things he missed most since being in the hospital and having surgery was cooking dinner with his family. I incorporated the use of our ADL kitchen into Patrick’s OT sessions, where he could regain participation in this preferred activity while also working on functional skills.”

When Patrick wasn’t in a therapy session, he was in the recreational room. “He was hesitant to go at first because he didn’t know what to expect, but once he went, he had a great time playing and getting to know other patients and CSH workers. He even planned his meals around going,” stated Kevin.

“It was hard being in the hospital for so long, but we were grateful that CSH allowed parents to stay. The hospital had a family lounge, game nights, and lots of ways to keep the parents informed. We had weekly meetings with his care team and received daily updates. I could even work out of the hospital and commute into the city since the train is within walking distance. We were making the best of a poor situation.”

Marissa stated, “Patrick’s dad was there every step of the way and was extremely helpful in Patrick’s recovery, carrying over all the exercises we had Patrick do in the gym, up on the unit. Patrick made excellent progress towards his goals of being able to walk better and without pain and was able to return home in just 2.5 weeks after admission.”

Heading Home

Patrick Cahill“After his first surgery, he could barely walk with a walker. After a few therapy sessions at CSH, Patrick could walk without a cane if his physical therapist or I was there. By the end, we were walking around the unit and trying to do laps at night. He always wanted to do one or two more than the night before, and he didn’t even want to use the cane as long as I was by his side,” noted Kevin.

Now that Patrick’s back home, he’s enjoying swimming, playing video games, having a catch, going to the movies, hanging out with friends, and cheering on the New Jersey Devils. “He can do all those things, and we’re not even 3 months away from major back surgery. He loves sports, but there’s still a fine line between what he can and can’t do. He needs to have someone around to ensure he’s safe when doing certain movements,” added Kevin. “He’s not allowed to participate in recess or organized sports yet, so swimming is a great way to stay active.”

Patrick has overcome many obstacles and continues to make improvements. “His doctor said that there’ll be ups and downs through the recovery process. You’ll get better a little, and then you’ll have a bad day. In the beginning, he had a leg brace that he had to wear at night to straighten out his leg, and it wasn’t long before that was off, and we were one step closer to going home. Those were the kind of gradual improvements that we saw,” stated Kevin. “We knew inpatient therapy would be the best thing for him. We didn’t want him to develop any bad habits and not be able to walk normally again. There are not many places like CSH in the area, and we’re fortunate to have spent time there.”

Patrick is continuing to recover and will go to a local outpatient facility for physical therapy. He’s still wearing a back brace but no longer using a cane. When the fusion fully heals, he’ll work on strengthening his core to get back into doing what he loves, playing sports.

Patrick Cahill