The Sweet Smile of Success
Little Emaline Musson from Bozeman, Montana, has come a long way at a very young age. The captivating one-year-old, whose parents traveled cross-country for help, came to the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit listless and largely unresponsive. But despair turned to celebration. After six weeks at the pediatric unit, Emaline went home.
“What’s happened here is miraculous,” says her mother Melanie, just before the family returned home in April. “She’s like a different baby. I feel like we brought in a newborn and we’re leaving with a baby doing what she’s supposed to be doing.”
Doctors suspect Emaline had a stroke while still in her mother’s uterus. She was five months old when spasms started, however her parents already knew something was wrong. “She wouldn’t look at us or turn her head to sound,” says Melanie. “Then she started having the spasms and she shut down. All the smiles and (visual) tracking were gone. It was the most horrible time of our lives.”
With no pediatric neurologist near their home, the family traveled to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for tests. Melanie, who is from Philadelphia, was told about Good Shepherd’s pediatric unit by a friend of hers whose own child had been cared for here. Everything fell into place and on February 28, Emaline was admitted. She wasn’t even seven months old.
Emaline’s father Rick, a police officer in Bozeman, spent the first week staying with his wife and daughter in Emaline’s room, which soon was transformed into a home away from home. A double-sized air mattress was set up for the young couple, and the walls were decorated with colorful pictures and photos. There were lots of books and even an electronic keyboard for Melanie, a music teacher, to practice for an upcoming performance with one of her students back home.
It was all a great comfort to a family so far away from home and trying to cope with a bewildering new world of medical challenges.
“When we first came, we were overwhelmed,” says Melanie. “I didn’t want to be here at all. But all the nurses and therapists were fantastic. They were a huge part of what made us feel comfortable. By the end of our stay, I didn’t want to leave!”
Emaline had a lot of hard work ahead of her. She responded minimally to movement, toys and people. A rigorous schedule of physical and occupational therapy was established for her to achieve even the simplest of tasks.
"Our goals were to get her doing things a baby her age should be doing; sitting up, tracking with her eyes, reaching for toys, rolling over,” says Melanie. Laura Zagacki, a pediatric occupational therapist, recalls that when Emaline arrived, she had trouble tolerating being moved from one position to another. Known as “sensory regulation,” the ability to regulate or tolerate a change, may cause minor irritation among typical babies. A pacifier or snuggly blanket quickly calms them. Emaline, however, wouldn’t settle down.
She also struggled with weakness on her right side, and her arm was locked in a flexed position with her elbow and fingers bent.
By the end of her stay though, Emaline’s progression was remarkable, delighting her parents. She could sit up on her own unsupported to play, her arm straightened out and she was reaching with her right hand and fingers extended, and those precious smiles returned like welcome rays of sunshine.
“You don’t realize how valuable and important a smile is until you don’t get to see them” says Rick.
Rick and Melanie are not only deeply grateful to the caregivers at Good Shepherd, they are also thankful that God and their faith sustained them through one of the most difficult periods of their young lives.
“We couldn’t have made it without the Lord’s help and strength and grace,” says Melanie. “With each trial, we found he gave us the grace to make it. I know He sees the big picture and will take care of us and her.”
Adds Rick, “The Lord opened doors for us at Good Shepherd. It was not by chance.”
It’s been about five months since Emaline went home. Melanie and Rick miss the daily therapy and compassionate care they found at Good Shepherd, but they practice techniques they were taught with Emaline and she just keeps getting better and better. She keeps her right hand open more and can push up with both her arms when lying prone, her mother reports. She’s even reached for a toy several times.
“Emaline is doing fantastic and she’s such a happy baby. People comment on it all the time,” says Melanie. “And she’s quite a chatter box. We love her constant babbling. We’re just so thankful for Good Shepherd. They equipped us to keep her on the path she’s going on.”