By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Luna Odom packs a lot of personality into her pint-size body. The 10-month-old doesn’t have words yet – though she did just start saying mama – but she expresses herself through squeals, shrieks and sass.
All of it delights her mom, Rose Odom, and her occupational therapist at Riley Children’s Health, Mary Carter.
“Hi, Miss Luna!” Carter greets little Luna as they enter the therapy room on the fourth floor of Riley. When Odom warns Carter that Luna is cranky today, Carter laughs. “I’ve had those days myself, sweet girl.”
The crankiness she came in with disappears when the first toy is introduced.
Carter has an easy way with her patients and their parents. She chats about goals and milestones while entertaining Luna with a musical train, balls, blocks and a water pad. She encourages her to move into different positions, mindful of the muscles she wants Luna to strengthen and the rotation she wants to see in her torso.
An occupational therapist at Riley since last October, Carter loves working with Luna’s age group because she gets to see exceptional results.
“Neuroplasticity – the flexibility of the brain pathways – at this age is so awesome,” she said. “It’s my favorite age group because you see so much progress.”
Luna was born four weeks early last June at IU Health Methodist Hospital. An MRI showed that one side of her brain wasn’t developing as fast as the other, leading to generalized muscle weakness and developmental delays.
She required care in the NICU for three weeks, beginning physical therapy and speech therapy even at just a few weeks old to try to “catch her up.” Feeding issues meant she had to go home on a feeding tube, but she pulled that out on her own about six weeks later, her mom said, and has been eating fine ever since.
Odom recalls that early on, one side of her baby’s body was a lot stronger. “The other side, she almost didn’t know existed.”
Her developing skills today are a testament to early intervention with physical and occupational therapy.
“She is making great progress, but she is still behind where she should be,” said Odom, a medical research worker in the IU School of Medicine.
Carter has been working with Luna weekly for several months. She has been amazed to watch her progress but says she wants to see her patient meet all of her age-appropriate milestones and maintain them for several months before she discharges her.
A follow-up MRI to track her brain development is scheduled for June.
Early on, Luna couldn’t focus her eyes and wouldn’t make eye contact. That has changed though, as she watches everyone in the therapy room very closely, especially the man with the camera.
She is definitely ready for her closeup.
“When I first met Luna, she was just beginning to track toys with her eyes,” Carter said. “Now she is reaching for toys, grabbing them, using both hands and bringing them to her mouth.”
Luna used to prefer being ramrod straight; she had trouble bending her arms and legs. Her mom likened her to a starfish when she picked her up.
Joint compression exercises targeting neural pathways address her sensitivity to touch, Carter said, adding that she continues to work with Luna on tummy time and pivoting.
Luna was showing off her skills during therapy, raising herself on all fours at one point.
She started sitting up on her own about six weeks ago, her mom said, but she wasn’t independently mobile until a couple of weeks ago.
When Carter asks how her “creeping” is going at home, Odom tells her Luna is basically moving in circles.
“She can roll back and forth, front to back, all over the place.”
Luna has two older siblings, so she’s learning by watching them too.
“Our goal is for her to crawl for her birthday, and I’m OK with that,” Odom said. “I didn’t think we were ever going to get to it, but almost overnight she decided she could get up on all fours.”
Luna works so hard at “playing” during OT, she usually falls asleep on the 20-minute drive home, her mom said.
Carter, who did a student rotation at Riley when she was in school, knew she wanted to work here. She started out her career working with First Steps, but when a position at Riley opened, “I jumped on it.”
It’s patients like Luna and parents like Odom that remind her why she wanted to be here.
“I’m just very proud of all the progress she’s made in OT and so proud of the family too for carrying over all of our therapy at home.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com