Close-to-home physical therapy helps Minnesota family

"I don't know where we'd be without physical therapy," says dad of 5-year-old

Young boy touches an image of a balloon on a big screen ActivPanel TV with his Sanford physical therapist at his side.

Neither Riley Nath’s parents, nor his health care providers, are sure what happened when he was in his mother’s womb.

When the now 7-year-old was born, he couldn’t swallow. He had no startle reflex, which is a reflex that helps babies eventually walk, and he was born with only four toes on both of his feet.

His father Matthew Nath said initially his providers thought he had a stroke while in the womb, “but when they did a brain scan, they didn’t see any damage.”

After being born, he was in the NICU for two months. Matthew said there is no official diagnosis for what Riley has, “but it’s basically like cerebral palsy.” What’s more peculiar, Riley has a twin sister, born minutes after him, who does not have any of the medical conditions Riley has.

After over two months, Matt and his wife were finally able to bring Riley home to Luverne, Minnesota. Once home, they started searching for physical therapists to work with Riley.

Finding hope, with Holly

That’s when they found Holly Sehr, a physical therapist at Sanford Health in Luverne. Sehr has been working as a physical therapist in Luverne for 27 years. She’s seen it all, and that’s exactly the type of person Riley needed, said Matthew.

“We’ve had some issues from when he was little that he still deals with. He still doesn’t swallow; he has a G-tube. So, we feed him through that. He initially had a lot of breathing treatments and that type of stuff, but therapy has made such a huge difference with helping him learn to swallow, learn how to speak, learn how to use his muscles. His right side is weaker, and he forgets that. So, just training him to make sure that he’s using both arms and legs,” he explained.

Matthew also said from birth, Riley couldn’t use the right side of his body.

Sehr and Riley have been working together at Sanford Luverne for five years. The difference from working with Sehr has been night and day.

Find a rehab team: Physical therapy services at Sanford Health

“Holly has a really good relationship with him, and knows, ‘OK, you like soccer. Let’s teach you skills so you can play with your brother and sister. We’ll practice running and kicking and jumping.’ She works on all those things with him so he can take what he learned home, and play with his brother and sister.

“I don’t know where we’d be at without therapy,” said Matthew.

When you watch Sehr and Riley work together, it’s clear both of them are having fun. There rarely isn’t a smile on each other’s faces.

“He’s a great kid, and full of personality. He’s a bright part of my week. I always look forward to seeing him. He makes my heart smile,” Sehr said.

Riley’s favorite activity while working with Sehr?

“The ActivPanel,” said Riley.

A big resource in a small town

The ActivPanel is essentially a 60 plus inch touch screen TV. It’s equipped with games and fun activities for kids to do. The best part? It’s actually working on mobile dexterity, without patients realizing they’re working.

“It’s a tool we use to augment what we’re trying to do for physical therapy. I’m trying to help promote some balance strengthening, core control, and encourage Riley to use his right side. If he’s distracted by something that he enjoys playing with, while he’s working on some balance medium, it encourages him to do that and I don’t have to be cueing as much.

“In addition, he will work harder for things like that. We typically use it more at the end of the session as something to kind of work hard for and get a lot of our core work done with our stretches range of motion. His other mobility skills of the stairs, jumping, galloping, working on some balance and coordination things,” explained Sehr.

Sehr said it’s a unique offering, and demonstrates Sanford Health’s commitment to rural health care.

“It’s something we didn’t have before. It’s not everything we do for our session, but we’re so thankful we have something like this,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have a good thing going that you can get great therapies close to home without having to drive a long way away. You can get a well-rounded physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, all under one roof right here in Luverne,” she added.

And, thanks in part to having the ActivPanel, Sehr said she’s seen big improvements from Riley.

“We used it for the first time last summer, and when we used it he was not using his arm as much. Usually now I can give him the cue before we start, and he will use his right side more often with the ActivPanel. Last year I had to do a lot of manual and physical cues. This year, I’ve been adding some different balance and mobility exercises to have him work his core and reaching skills. He did really well today, and seemed pretty solid. So, I’m going to have to make it harder next time,” she laughed.

Riley’s big goal

Matthew and his wife plan to keep having Riley do therapy until he’s an adult in hopes he’ll be able to live independently. But, beyond that, Riley has set a big goal and hope for himself.

“Maybe even have a family. That’s one of his big goals is to be a dad. That’s the one thing in life he wants to do. So, we’re hopefully going to be able to get him to the point where he can be a dad and have a family of his own.”

In the meantime, Riley will keep working, and having fun, every Monday in Luverne.

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Posted In Children's, Luverne, Rehabilitation & Therapy, Rural Health