When East Grand Forks residents Angie and Kevin Cantera began fostering infant Zach eight years ago, they didn’t realize how soon they’d end up adopting him. They also didn’t realize how soon trips to Altru’s Pediatric Therapy Services would become part of their weekly routine.
Zach was a colicky baby who didn’t like being held. At 4 months old, he wasn’t growing as he should. After an MRI, he was diagnosed with hypertonia, a condition that causes muscles to stiffen and difficulty with movement.
“He had a hard time sucking on the bottle,” Angie says. “It was very difficult to get him to eat. He wasn’t gaining a lot of weight. He was just tiny.”
At 6 months old, Zach began both physical and occupational therapy at Altru, but his progress was slow. After more testing, the Canteras learned Zach has a rare disorder called chromosome 10q duplication. This can cause multiple growth and developmental problems, including autism, which Zach also has. Therapy at Altru, often multiple times a week, has continued for Zach’s entire life.
A Welcoming Place
As Zach continued with therapy, including beginning speech therapy at 18 months, he wasn’t always well behaved.
“Honestly, when he was little, all he did was scream the entire time,” Angie says. “I worried that they were going to give up on him, but the staff didn’t ever seem like they were frazzled. They didn’t ever make us feel like we were unwelcome, despite the screaming.”
Will Slocum, PT, DPT, is a pediatric physical therapist at Altru who has been working with Zach most of his years in therapy. He says that during that time, Zach has come a long way. “It’s so cool to be able to see the development from those early years to where he is now,” Will says. “You get to see the blossoming of those skills, like how much fun Zach has when he can finally do something like jump off of a chair and land it. He’s always been really easy to work with, even though his diagnosis can be sometimes tricky. Even when he has bad and frustrating days, they’re not really that bad.”
Angie calls Will “the Pied Piper of the kids.”
“The kids will do anything for him,” Angie says. “They enjoy it so much that they don’t realize that they’re really working.”
Will says his strategy is to be as “silly and interesting as possible.” “That way, when kids come to therapy, they know they are there for fun, not work,” Will says.
Eight Years of Progress
Zach has gone from being unable to hold a bottle to being able to dress himself and play with his siblings.
“He still has very tense muscles, but he has become so strong that he can work through it,” Angie says.
Zach’s condition means he might always need to have some kind of therapy in his life. But as he progressed, he has been able to do more exercises at home, including applied behavior analysis to help with his autism. The three older Cantera children help Zach practice; 14-year-old Kate has gotten so involved that she is already decided to study therapy in college. The Canteras are currently fostering 3-year-old twins, who also receive therapy services at Altru. Angie says that without Will and his team, she doesn’t know how she’d cope.
“They feel like a lifeline,” Angie says. “They truly care about where the kids are and where they need to get to and how to get them there.”
If your child is experiencing developmental delays or having trouble with their speech, speak with their provider to see if pediatric therapy could help. For more information about Altru's Pediatric Therapy Services, call 701.780.2477.