Occupational Therapy

How Occupational Therapy Helps Kids Return to a Normal Life

April is Occupational Therapy Month. It’s a time to recognize the achievements of patients like 13-year-old Jaden who recovered from a serious accident, thanks, in part, to the efforts of occupational therapist Rachael Thibeau and other experts at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Jaden had gone for a ride on his friend’s pontoon boat on the intracoastal waters of Tampa Bay. They were sitting on the bow of the boat, dragging their feet through the water. Just as they were about to dock, a strong wake, caused by a passing boat, hit their boat, knocking Jaden into the water where he quickly disappeared under the boat.

When the Bradenton teen surfaced and was pulled out of the water, everyone realized he had been hit by the boat’s propeller. He needed immediate medical attention to save his life.

Within minutes, he was transported to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital by LifeLine helicopter. An experienced trauma team was waiting for him.

“I’ve seen propeller injuries, but never one this bad,” says George Jallo, M.D., an internationally known pediatric neurosurgeon with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Institute for Brain Protection Sciences, who was at Jaden’s bedside within minutes. “The propeller cracked his skull and severed his brain. He had an open laceration, and he had been exposed to the gulf waters, which contaminated the wounds.”

Dr. Jallo took him into the operating room immediately. He was uncertain if Jaden would ever be able to breathe on his own or walk again. But Jaden’s a fighter, according to his mother. So, no one should have been surprised when Jaden started to move around, recognize his family and make other physical and mental recovery milestones within days of his surgery. He was only in the pediatric ICU (PICU) for 10 days. The day he got out of the PICU, it was his 14th birthday. He was already walking and talking.

“Just getting him out of bed and into a chair was difficult in the first few days,” Thibeau said. “We worked with him for several weeks on his functional abilities, called ADLs (activities of daily living). He had to learn how to get dressed, take a bath and get himself to the bathroom on his own.”

This is the reason Thibeau says she enjoys her work as a pediatric occupational therapist.

“Our goal is to teach kids like Jaden to be as independent as possible and get back to the same level of function they had before the medical event. Occupational therapy helps children improve their fine motor control and teaches them how to complete tasks on their own. Seeing kids achieve small milestones that are important to them through the use of occupational therapy makes my day.”

*Presented by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital | Originally published in April 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.