UofL researchers helping children with spinal cord injuries walk

UofL researchers helping children with spinal cord injuries walk
Evander Conroy's mother Clare (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Evander Conroy's mother Clare (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Your child's first steps are a milestone for any parent, but they mean something more when you thought they'd never come.

This summer, a boy from Australia is spending five weeks in Louisville learning in small steps how to walk.

Evander Conroy thinks he's playing in a land of pirates and treasure. He doesn't realize it's hiding a ton of hard work.

"Everything in here is play, and yet it's all designed with the goals we have in mind," said Andrea Behrman, a UofL professor, researcher and director of the Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery.

Behrman is proud of her lab that's helping Evander -- born with a cancerous tumor in his chest cavity that damaged his spinal cord -- do something most doctors thought he wouldn't.

"Kids that we didn't ever expect to get better ... This child, this family was told since birth that he would never walk, he would not stand, he would not have trunk muscles that would be active, he couldn't sit up," Behrman said.

Although he's not walking yet, Evander can take some steps with help from mom Clare.

"It's quite emotional to hear that your child is not going to walk and then to see them take those steps," she said. "The first time was here in the hallways and my other two children, they (asked), 'Why are you crying?' And I said, 'I got emotional to see it.'"

Conroy said it's raised her standards.

This is Evander's third summer in Louisville. While previous work has helped him stand with the help of a frame and take steps with Clare's help, the goal is by the end of his time in Louisville in 2015, Evander will be able to take those same steps independently.

Behrman and her fellow researchers adapted the adult-sized specialty treadmill that's aiding in Evander's therapy for his small size.

"Can you imagine putting a child who weighs 22 pounds on a system that's made for adults?" Behrman asked. "It's like taking a 22-pound individual and giving them an adult bicycle and saying, 'Want you to ride.'"

It's making all of the fun that Evander is having during his summer in Louisville something that one day soon could help paralyzed children across the globe learn to walk.

The treadmill that Evander is using is so specialized, it can measure things like how much pressure is under the child's feet, how much motion he's getting and how his muscles are working.  Behrman is working with Speed School engineers and a manufacturer to have a commercial product available to physical therapists as early as next year.

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