It is not widely known, but children can suffer strokes. Unfortunately, just as stroke is a leading cause of disability in adults, stroke can also cause disabilities in children. In fact, over 60 percent of children that survive a stroke are left with permanent neurological deficits. These can include learning and memory problems; difficulty with speech and language; impaired vision; behavior or personality changes; and development of epilepsy.

Small victories  

One of the most common deficits for these children is hemiplegia or hemiparesis, which is a paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. Katie suffered a stroke before birth and was diagnosed with left hemiplegia when she was six months old. When she was ten, Katie realized she was the only one of her friends still using training wheels on her bike. Over the next year, she took it one goal at a time. Katie explains, “At first I learned just how to balance on my bike. Then I began gliding and learned how to put one foot on the pedal. After that, I tried to get both feet on the pedals, and, finally, I was riding without training wheels!” Katie worked hard to reach her goal and was rewarded with victory.

New therapies

For families with children who have suffered a stroke, trying to find what options are available, accessible and affordable to help their child reach their potential can be a daunting task. There is also a lack of studies that evaluate potential rehabilitation methods among the pediatric stroke population. Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT), mirror therapy, functional electrical stimulation and botulinum toxin type A (Botox) are among the interventions where studies are being conducted. However, more research is needed to prove their feasibility for children.

“Pediatric stroke affects the entire family, and children can face a lifetime of therapies, surgeries and other interventions to reach their maximum potential.”

Katie can tell you that some of these therapies do help. She started weekly CIMT at a young age through an occupational therapy program and attended summer camp in her area. The program helped her work on individualized goals and socialize with other children with hemiplegia. Now at age 13, she is a mentor and assists younger children at camp, which gives her great happiness and satisfaction. By showing those children what is possible, Katie is giving them hope for their future.

An ongoing battle

After a stroke, some children will have more than one deficit. Katie is no exception. At the age of one, she had her first seizure. By age three, her seizure disorder couldn’t be controlled, and she required brain surgery. Four years later, a second, more complicated brain surgery was needed. Fortunately, she has been seizure free for the past five years.

Pediatric stroke affects the entire family, and children can face a lifetime of therapies, surgeries and other interventions to reach their maximum potential. Katie is fortunate to have the support of family, medical specialists and community to help her embrace her unique abilities. Meeting others with similar challenges, finding resources, utilizing therapies and being inspired to keep going can help children impacted by stroke achieve a positive outcome.