Local fifth grader one of many to benefit from the Center
SIKESTON - "Her name's Blitzen. You know, like the reindeer," 11-year-old Kara Blankenship stated.
Kara is referring to her service dog, a 2-year-old golden retriever, that aids her in the daily events of her life.
"She can open the door, and she picks up my pencil for me when I drop it. You wanna see her open the door?" Kara asked while at the same time heading to the front door of the Kenny Rogers Children's Center.
"Come on, Blitzen," Kara commanded while patting the wall. "Come on, girl." And sure enough, Blitzen jumped up, pressed the blue button and caused the doors to swing open.
Kara, a fifth grader at Southwest Elementary, has spina bifida. She can't feel from her waist down and has used a wheelchair since she was 2 or 3 years old, she said. She also has a metal rod in her back. Spina bifida is the result of the failure of the spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.
Fortunately for Kara and her family, help is available locally. The Kenny Rogers Children's Center serves children with special needs including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorder and spina bifida along with other disorders.
Kara is one of 300 children who will benefit from the Kenny Rogers Children's Center 22nd annual telethon this Saturday and Sunday at the Sikeston High School Field House beginning at 9 a.m.
The fact that Kara is in a wheelchair doesn't mean she's incapable of adapting to multiple environments. In fact, it's just the opposite. Aside from attending public school, Kara visits the Kenny Rogers Children's Center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for 30 minutes of physical therapy after school.
While at the Center, Kara engages in a number of therapeutic activities. One of those activities includes walking, which is not one of her favorite things to do, she said. Braces are placed on Kara's legs during the session to help her walk better.
A difficult part of the physical therapy session occurs when Kara must get back into her wheelchair after her session is finished. "We've been working on this for a while," said Jennifer Strain, Kara's physical therapist. "Kara has to lift herself back into her chair, which is extremely difficult. She works so hard."
Kara begins this process by sitting in the stirrups of her wheelchair with her back against the edge of the seat, and then she uses her arms to pull herself into her seat. Strain said tricep push-up exercises help Kara get stronger, and in return, make getting into her chair easier.
In addition to physical therapy, Kara participates in occupational therapy for 45 minutes every Wednesday at school. While physical therapy mostly focuses on the lower body, occupational therapy primarily targets the upper body.
"During occupational therapy, the focus is on sharpening skills that are used every day by Kara, such as holding a pencil, writing, cutting or pressing buttons," said Melanie Steed, Kara's occupational therapist. "We work on visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills and visual coordination."
Many of these skills can be tested by making things like puzzles or art projects. When making art projects, Kara is required to color her project, cut it out and then put it together, Steed said. Kara said her favorite activity is using putty to build her hand strength. Small beads are hidden in a big ball of putty, and Kara squeezes and molds the ball until she finds all of the beads.
Blitzen is alongside Kara throughout the entire course of her day. From the school bus to school to therapy and back home, Blitzen never leaves Kara's side. "Blitzen is very protective of Kara," Strain said. "If we're doing therapy and it starts to get tough for Kara, Blitzen can sense Kara is in pain and thinks she's being hurt. Kara has to tell her [Blitzen] everything's OK."
The feeling is mutual for Kara. "We're good friends," she said. "And I love her."