By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
“Oh the places you’ll go,” wrote Dr. Seuss, and in the realm of pediatric physical therapy, it’s helping kids be as independent as possible.
Kidz Physical Therapy is a home-clinic business in La Crescent under the direction of Lindsey Shay, MSPT, DPT, who is passionate about helping kids with physical needs and neurological disorders.
“I’ve just always loved working with kids. They want to move, learn how to be as independent as possible,” she explained.
Shay earned her Masters in Physical Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Des Moines University and Bachelors of Science degrees. She works with kids who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, stroke, traumatic brain injury, developmental delays, Down Syndrome, developmental coordination disorder, toe walking, torticollis, among others.
Kidz Physical Therapy isn’t meant to replace traditional therapy, but it can give kids a boost in mobility. Shay’s programs, or camps, are “intensive,” in the sense that therapy sessions last about three hours. In those three hours, repetition and different activities help kids learn how to move.
“There’s potential for changes. The kids definitely make progress. It’s the excitement they get, excited parents, the family gets involved,” she said.
Shay uses many different types of equipment, including a treadmill with a gait helper, a tumbling mat, adaptable bikes, mechanical horse, therapy balls, swings, hand weights, weighted blankets, a push rack made by a local La Crosse woman-owned business and “the cage,” or a universal exercise unit.
That piece of equipment comes from Poland, where physical therapists designed a system that can help kids walk, jump, sit, stand, squat and move around with the help of body weight supports and bungees. Shay is trained and certified to help kids move in this equipment.
Her 11-year-old son, Conner, likes to move, stand and jump in it. Conner has cerebral palsy, is non-verbal, has a feeding tube and uses a wheelchair.
“He loves to move. So many people think he’s fragile, but he loves to move. He can stand, he jumps...” Shay said.
Conner is a twin who was born four months early. His sister was three days old when she passed. At the time, Shay worked for Team Rehab in Decorah, Iowa. That clinic practiced an “intensive” physical therapy program for kids as well.
After 8 months in the NICU with Conner, Shay worked at Hiawatha Valley Education District with pediatric physical therapy for birth to three months. Then she worked for La Crosse School District, but something was missing. Shay missed the intensity in the physical therapy sessions.
The idea for her own clinic came to fruition when she and her husband built their house in La Crescent. They built a therapy room for their son, connected to their garage. Since Conner accumulated essential therapy tools and equipment already, it was the perfect fit.
“In my continuing education, everything I read and researched, intensity was the big piece in making progress,” she said. Even before her son was born, the idea for her own business was there.
The room is small, but warmly decorated with Dr. Seuss characters and quotes, a tribute to the doctor who took care of Conner when he was born.
“This big six-foot-seven doctor came in the room, looked at Conner, just one pound, and said, ‘A person is a person no matter how small,’” Shay recalled. From then on, Dr. Seuss was a part of Conner’s life.
Part of the idea for her own practice comes from the limitations of insurance companies. In hospitals, physical therapists usually see patients for about 45 minutes, and then ask the parents to do the exercises at home with their child. In schools, physical therapy is a related service that helps improve functions in school, but at a low intensity level and only once or twice a week.
For kids like Conner, a combination of therapy programs might take eight hours a day, which can be hard for parents who have full-time jobs and a family.
Shay’s program doesn’t accept insurance, which sounds scary at first, but that freedom gives the ability to customize programs to kids’ needs. Financial waivers are available through several different programs, including the Children’s Miracle Network.
“Traditional physical therapy might see them once a week forever. This program has a start, stop,” she said. “We make sure it’s appropriate and they have goals to accomplish.”
Whether those are long or short term goals, Kidz Physical Therapy programs usually include four to five days a week, for about two to three hours a day.
“It’s not capped at 45 minutes. We’re not doing anything in less than an hour,” she said. “So many kids with cerebral palsy and other disorders don’t get the same repetitions as a typically developing infant has. A baby crawling might rock back and forth 500 times before they get the courage to move that hand forward to crawl. Kids with neuro-motor issues might need to do that rocking 1,000 or 5,000 times before they can take that step forward. It puts a lot of pressure on parents when you can only get in to therapy once a week.
“That short camp window, getting repetition and intensity, parents can go home and relax and have fun with their kids,” Shay said.
Parents, siblings, support workers and grandparents are allowed to sit in on the sessions or they can take a break and spend time locally.
Much of the equipment are things that might not be available in a typical clinic setting, and it provides a good way to hone in skills or weaknesses that kids need to work on. Different toys are also used during therapy sessions, especially if kids like music or movies.
During the session, Shay videotapes the exercises and puts together photos and snippets of videos for parents to see what they’ve learned, and what they can handle at home. It also helps Shay review each kid’s exercises.
“I like to think of it as if you want to play high school basketball and start on the team, you practice every day for several hours, or if you want to be a state-honors musician in high school, you don’t just practice for 30 minutes once a week,” she said, “Then we have kids with special needs. Their brains and bodies function a little differently. We’re telling them to come to therapy once a week. That’s more challenging to be successful.”