PHH helping children improve while having fun with high-tech center

Luke Hall (right) has fun as he prepares to exit the Parkview Huntington Hospital’s new pediatric therapy gym, as his therapist, Hannah Koeneman, keeps watch on his progress and encourages him to exercise his muscles.
Luke Hall (right) has fun as he prepares to exit the Parkview Huntington Hospital’s new pediatric therapy gym, as his therapist, Hannah Koeneman, keeps watch on his progress and encourages him to exercise his muscles. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Luke Hall thinks he’s going to the hospital to play on the cool playground-type equipment they have there. But his therapist knows he’s actually getting a workout.

The 5-year-old, who has been diagnosed with developmental delays, looks forward to his sessions at the new Parkview Huntington Hospital Pediatric Therapy rooms, located in the recently opened Holly D. Sale Rehabilitation and Wellness Center. When he sees the gigantic rainbow mural on the wall outside the gym’s doors, he makes sure to high-five all the colors before bounding inside to start some serious play.

Luke plays a lot with Hannah Koeneman, a pediatric physical therapist who gets him using his muscles, jumping, climbing, pulling ropes and sliding down ramps on the new play set, which has only been installed about a month. Luke may not realize it, but while he’s having fun Koeneman is helping him strengthen his core muscles.

Koeneman’s goal is to help Luke and other children get up to their age level with their motor skills, which are delayed in their development due to a global muscle weakness or certain neurological conditions that hinder the connections between the brain and body.

“I assess them and see where those impairments are, and that’s what we start building on,” she says. “Those impairments could be muscle weakness, (limited) range of motion, coordination – all these little parts that build up into improving those gross motor skills, those milestones that kids are trying to reach.”

The PHH pediatric therapy team consists of three occupational therapists, three speech therapists and one physical therapist. They collaborate on their young patients’ treatment plans and work with their families on activities they can do at home to multiply the benefits of their therapy.
The new, nearly 4,100-square-foot facility, which includes a motor skills gym and a sensory gym, allows children to not only play and actively become stronger under the watchful eye of their therapist, but also addresses specific needs for those kids who have sensory processing issues.

The motor gym encourages active exercise with its play set and other colorful, fun contraptions. The colors are bold and the light is bright and stimulating. The sensory room is much different. Without windows, the lighting and atmosphere are much more subdued, with platform swings that provide a more laid-back, peaceful therapy.

Koeneman and her team see around nine patients per day. Most are long-term therapy kids, she says. Those needing orthopedic care – such as help after having a broken bone – are considered short-term patients.

“I’d say a large part of our caseload in pediatric physical therapy is developmental delay. Some kiddos are just not quite up to their age in those motor skills, and so we work a lot with that,” Koeneman says. “That could stem from, in Luke’s case, global muscle weakness, or some kids have diagnoses where, neurologically, the connections aren’t quite there.”

Luke has been going to PHH’s pediatric therapy department for physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions for the past two years. When it started, the department was stuck in the basement, crammed into a room roughly the size of a hospital broom closet. Now, in addition to the two gyms, the new pediatric rehab area boasts a separate waiting area, six private treatment rooms and a pediatric kitchen to assist patients who have swallowing or other feeding issues.

“The new facility has not only allowed us to have larger spaces and specialty areas for therapy, but also enabled us to hire additional team members,” says PHH Community/Media Relations Specialist Leslie Megison. “This has allowed us to add their skill sets to our team, and to provide pediatric occupational, physical and speech therapies for more conditions close to home for our patients and their families.”

Ask Luke what he thinks about all that and you’re likely to get a goofy grin. However, his mom, Brittany Robinson, says Luke thinks it’s all pretty cool.

“He has a blast here – he just loves it. Every time he comes to the door, he looks for that rainbow so he knows he’s in PT, and he gets so excited,” she says. “He’s ready to go – he drags Hannah to the gym so they can get working.”

Robinson has also noticed some big changes since Luke started making visits to the center.

“He can actually walk better without falling, and he’s now finally running, where before he was not running at all,” she observes. “He couldn’t even pick up any toys without falling down. He’s come a long way.”

She adds that her son’s confidence has also improved. So much so that, with a little more help, Luke may even start kindergarten this month at Andrews Elementary.

Luke’s great-grandmother, Sandy Barrus, elatedly adds that it’s not only the play set equipment that has helped him improve.

“I think one of the things that has helped him so much, too, is the people. He’s had awesome therapists,” Barrus says. “That also makes a big difference, because if you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter where you’re doing it, the accomplishment isn’t there. …

“He comes out with this big smile on his face … They’ll say, ‘He worked hard,’ and you can tell he worked hard, but he still has that smile on his face. When they bring him out he’s smiling and he’s happy and that just means everything to us.”

For more information about Parkview Huntington Hospital’s Pediatric Rehab Unit, call 355-3240.