When Allie Smith was first born on a summer’s day in 2009, there was no indication right away that anything was wrong. Her mother Amy had a normal pregnancy, passed all of her prenatal tests and gave birth to Allie in a routine labor. It wasn’t until two weeks after they brought Allie home that her parents realized something wasn’t right.
“Allie just wouldn’t eat,” says Amy Smith. “She did not want to drink her bottle so I got worried, and brought her in to see the doctor.”
After several tests, doctors determined that Allie had contracted bacterial meningitis from exposure during birth to group B strep (GBS). Amy had passed the screening process for GBS in her last trimester so the diagnosis came as a surprise to everyone.
And of the typical problems that early-onset GBS causes such as pneumonia and sepsis (blood infection), Allie had ended up with one of the least common and worst outcomes. As a result, Allie spent weeks in the hospital only to end up battling hydrocephalus, a condition that causes head swelling from a build up of spinal fluid in the brain. Ultimately, she developed cerebral palsy and extremely limited use of the right side of her body.
Living in Green Cove Springs, the Smiths were a good 45 minutes away from downtown Jacksonville and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. However, the health care system did operate an offsite center that offered rehabilitative services off of County Road 220 in Fleming Island, and when she turned six months old, Allie was able to begin a regimen of physical therapy. In 2013, the comprehensive rehabilitation services group found a permanent home at Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center at Baptist Clay Medical Campus when it opened last September. That not only made the drive a little more direct but also provided the additional benefits of having doctor’s offices and a Wolfson Children's ER, all in the same place.
“Having these services closer to our home is so much more convenient, and it’s helped us keep up with her appointments, which has helped tremendously with her progress,” says Amy.
Allie receives weekly therapy from a trio of specialists – Peggy Glatz, PT, who provides physical therapy to improve muscle strength and movement range; Sara Werner, ST, who helps with the development of her speech, language and communications skills; and Nikki Hallick, OT, who works with Allie on fine motor development to accomplish daily skills like opening things, feeding and dressing herself. All three have worked with Allie from a few months to several years, and all agree that she has blossomed.
“When I first started seeing her she was scooting on her back, she was tight and couldn’t sit by herself,” says Glatz, who has worked with Allie for three years. “She can sit on her own now, can stand for a short time, and can walk with help. When she’s willing, she can walk 30 feet.”
The key, says Hallick, is to find a balance of play and work that challenges her, using compromise to keep her motivated through three different, targeted types of therapy. And working with her on her ability to communicate and express herself after her brain injury created a speech disorder has also been pivotal in her ongoing development. Allie uses a specialized one-arm drive wheelchair to get around in which helps increase her mobility.
“Allie’s happy and loves seeing everyone but when it comes to working, she does not want to do it,” says Amy. “The therapists at the rehabilitation services center have the most patience of anyone I know, and they know how to get the kids to work with them. They have such a great rapport.”
Offering the same level of rehabilitative services to families in Clay County as is provided by the physical, occupational and speech therapists found at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville is a huge plus, and makes a difference in the lives of many families like the Smiths. Working parents who are busy and already dealing with the limitations of a child with special needs logistically are more able to get to these vital appointments.
“Parents have told us that this is some of the best success they have seen with their kids, especially long-termers, because of our consistent and intense training modalities,” says Hallick. “Also, having us available out here is a huge benefit not only because of these services but the convenience.”
For the Smith family, it has been extremely valuable in the life of their little girl.
“Allie is a very joyful, loving child,” says Amy, “and she is improving tremendously.”