COLUMBIA, Mo. — Muscular dystrophy is a progressive disease that weakens muscles in the body. The condition can affect a wide range of everyday functions in children, anything from problems with just writing down a note to difficulty breathing.

Specialists at University of Missouri Children’s Hospital Therapy Services are equipped to treat patients with the genetic disease. However, diagnoses are not always the same. There are a number of different types of muscular dystrophy. Some types affect the entire body while others impact only certain parts of the body.
“Most patients have a bright outcome but will likely be required to make compensations throughout their life,” said Kimberly Dohm, OTR-L, an occupational therapist and clinical supervisor of rehabilitation services at Children’s Hospital.
Children’s Hospital Therapy Services focuses on occupational, physical, speech and language therapy. In the early stages of muscular dystrophy, the therapist works with the children to help them compensate and overcome in areas where they have a lack of strength. Many of these activities include using special kinds of clothing, pens, pencils and fasteners to help teach children and their families how to accomplish common activities. The therapist also focuses on improving communication skills.
Muscular dystrophy is a progressive disease and often results in children being unable to walk. The therapy offered at the center is individualized to the needs of the children and their families, and it can change as the disease progresses. The condition can affect speech, walking, swallowing and the ability to do both fine motor skills and gross motor skills.
“I take a lot of pride in being able to help kids who can’t walk to be mobile on their own, even if it is helping them to be able to use a power wheelchair,” Dohm said. “It makes a big difference to not be dependent on someone to move you around.”
The center is home to equipment and resources that are specially designed for rehabilitation. One such piece of equipment is a TheraSuit, which is a suit the child puts on that is attached to a system of weights and pulleys to offload certain muscle groups. The suit relieves the stress of gravity, which is a major challenge to a child with a muscle deficit.
“It’s empowering,” Dohm said. “My favorite thing is to see a child, who has never been able to be a rebel, have the strength and ability to throw something down or run away from their parents. These children have often times always been passive bystanders in their own lives.”
MU Children’s Hospital Therapy Center is located across the street from MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital at 525 Keene St., Suite 101, in Columbia. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is staffed by nearly 30 pediatric rehabilitation specialists, including physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.
(Courtesy of MU Health Care)