“Children are all the same no matter where you are,” said Megan Price, an occupational therapist at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “No matter what your cultural background is, children need love, and they need to be played with, and they thrive on that interaction.”

Price and her colleague Kelsey Burke practice leading-edge pediatric intensive therapy to help children regain movement and control of their bodies after they have had strokes or were born with neuromotor impairments. Parents from around the world bring their children to Roanoke, Virginia, to participate in studies at the institute’s Neuromotor Research Clinic.

Recently, the occupational therapists volunteered to travel halfway around the world to Morocco, North Africa, where they shared neurorehabilitation techniques for children that were developed by the team at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute with more than 50 pediatric therapists-in-training, parents, and children. The pair took time off from their Virginia Tech jobs to make the trip with a non-profit humanitarian organization.

“You could see that they were hungry for the information and the support. They had a lot of questions,” Price said.

Burke and Price had to adapt their therapy goals to the local culture. Occupational therapy aims to empower people to handle tasks for everyday life, with a goal of increasing independence. With children, this is often achieved through play.

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The two employ a therapy to improve brain function and motor behaviors through a refined set of fun skill-building activities. Some of the techniques were developed by the clinic’s co-directors, Sharon Landesman Ramey, research professor and distinguished research scholar at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Stephanie DeLuca, associate professor at the research institute. One such intensive therapy is the cornerstone of the nation’s first Phase III clinical trial for rehabilitating infant stroke survivors.

“But for these families, the goal wasn’t so much for the child to be more self-sufficient, but rather to be more active and involved in the family and in their community,” Burke said.

The therapists worked mostly with children who had no formal diagnosis, they said. Parents had often been told by physicians to expect little to no improvement from their children.

One mother had been told her daughter would never understand or communicate. “The mother was advocating for her daughter, to say, ‘No, we have a connection. I know that she does understand me.’ That's encouraging to see.”

Despite language and cultural barriers and the constant need for interpreters, Burke and Price were reminded that success really depends upon the child’s whole community, no matter where that community is. The goal is the same.

“How can we empower the child and empower their family to live what is a full and engaged life for them, whatever that may look like for the child and the family?” Price said.

Kelsey Burke and Megan Price
Kelsey Burke, left, and Megan Price. Photo by Clayton Metz for Virginia Tech.
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