These odds did not matter to Jacqueline Serrano. When her son Ryan was 4 months old, and after noticing he wouldn’t use his left arm, she learned from doctors that he had suffered a stroke in utero — in other words, before he was born.
“I was both shocked and devastated to hear that my son had suffered a stroke. All my tests during pregnancy were normal, and when I received the news I was led to believe my child would be severely limited,” Serrano said.
A stroke in a child can have lifelong effects. It may impair motor skills, lead to learning disabilities, and even affect language development. In Ryan Serrano’s case, he would be diagnosed with hemiplegia, meaning that the left half of his body suffers from a form of paralysis.
With no cure in sight, to address his hemiplegia, the Serrano’s were encouraged to undergo various forms of therapy.
“Once diagnosed, my son Ryan started a heavy dose of both physical and occupational therapy in order to help him develop his motor functions. He started his therapy at four months old and continued to the age of 6. It was grueling; we did some form of therapy three times a week until one day Ryan said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He was tired.”
As Ryan got older, therapy no longer provided the motivation he needed nor was it having the same effect as it did when he was a child. His parents decided to give him a break but after noticing that he was beginning to digress, started looking into other options other than traditional therapy. Eventually, through much research, Jacqueline heard about fitness trainers that worked specifically with kids.
“I met Jose Lima, one of the trainers at the Health Joint Fitness Club [8015 SW 40 St.] and signed up Ryan for personal training sessions three times a week,” Serrano said. “Since it was more fitness and health focused, I knew it would interest him. Today, after two years, the change has been amazing — both physically and emotionally. He not only has a positive, healthy role model, but Ryan has also developed his strength, has muscle definition, is more mobile, and can actually use his left arm now.”
Regular physical fitness activity throughout life is encouraged as being important for preventing diseases and promoting physical and emotional well-being. For children with disabilities or chronic conditions, these benefits can have more impact. There are many demonstrated fitness gains to be obtained by following an appropriate fitness program.
“When Ryan first came in, the first thing we did is give him a fitness test,” said Jose Lima, Ryan’s personal trainer for more than three years at the Health Joint. “At the time he did not have much function with his left hand and his motor skills weren’t that great either. Half of the equipment we couldn’t use. However, after six months of consistent training we grabbed our first bar, and eventually started using some of the equipment. I am very proud of his progress.”
Kids with his type of condition may not ever get to 100 percent mobility but as Lima said, “I can assure that with the right exercise and persistence he will get to at least 80 percent.”
For the Serranos, 80 percent sounds just right as it is better than results achieved through other alternatives. In short, an exercise program of strength and endurance training may be a safe and feasible option for children with disabilities, as the benefits can be immeasurable.
Ryan, now 15, and in high school, has started to experience a new life by improving the functionality of his left side.
“The training I’ve received from Jose at the Health Joint has changed my life,” Ryan said. “I get one-on-one training and I get to challenge myself physically, results of which I see improve with every passing year. Being able to do simple things like going kayaking and doing sports is just amazing, as they are things I was never able to do before. I have learned that exercise is progress, it has helped my body and my confidence.”
For more information on fitness programs for children with special needs call 305-261-4004 or visit online at www.thehealthjoint.com. More information regarding hemiplegia can be found at www.chasa.org.