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Walking tall

Innovative leg treatment helps high school athlete overcome disability
Christopher Kennedy can now walk tall with Sanford Health's innovative activeleg program
Despite a disability that causes walking difficulties, Christopher Kennedy plays football and baseball for the Harvey High School Hornets. Christopher recently began treatment at the Sanford Rehabilitation Center and is seeing improvements in his walking gait.
  By the time he was a year old, Christopher Kennedy’s parents knew he had a problem.

“When he started walking, we saw something wasn’t right,” his mother, Kathy Kennedy, said. “We thought maybe it was his hip.”

When her son walked, it was with the heel of his right foot in the air and the toes turned in. A corrective brace wasn’t working, but the family was told he might outgrow it.

“But he didn’t,” Kathy said, remembering the exercises designed to stretch the heel cord so the ankle would bend. “He just kind of grew up walking with his heel up and his toe down. He’d wear out his right shoe.”

Because of his imbalance, Christopher would often fall. “Before he was 3, he’d had stitches three times because he’d fall a lot,” Kathy said. “But he kind of learned how to walk so he wouldn’t fall.”

He was eventually diagnosed with monoplegia, a mild form of cerebral palsy. In Christopher’s case, according to physical therapist Michelle Vetter at Sanford Health, he had difficulty activating the muscle that pulls his foot up when taking a step forward.

“This can lead to dragging of the toes or scraping the front of the shoe along the floor when walking,” Vetter said. “Over time, this can cause overuse syndromes of muscle groups in the leg, as well as an uneven joint wear, which can lead to pain and the early onset of joint issues.”

Christopher, now 16 and a junior at Harvey High School, didn’t let his disability prevent him from competing in sports. He plays football and baseball for the Hornets.

“I’ve always wanted to play sports and try to be as equal or as normal as everybody who doesn’t have a disability,” said Christopher, the youngest of Kathy and Gary Kennedy’s seven children.

“If he really, really concentrated, he could walk normal,” Kathy said. “But to him, it felt weird, like he was going to fall down.”

That’s all changed thanks to the physical therapy he’s received in Bismarck and a donation from the Sanford Great American Bike Race (GABR). It happened after his mother read a story about Sanford Health’s ActiveLeg therapy in a recent edition of this magazine. It discussed the merits of the Bioness L300, a system that applies electrical stimulation to the precise points in applicable leg muscles to achieve a natural, consistent and smooth walking pattern.

“It sounded just like what Christopher has,” his mother said. “He read the article and told me to call them.”

An appointment last September with Vetter resulted in a prescription for the Bioness L300.

However, the cost of the equipment—which was not covered by the family’s medical insurance—was too much for the family to handle at the time.

“We knew it would be expensive, so we applied to the Sanford GABR fund,” Kathy said.

The request was approved, and Christopher’s walking gait has already improved.

  Michelle Vetter
Michelle Vetter
Physical therapy

Kathy said her son is now better able to stand tall and walk a straight line. The L300 is worn below the knee with a sensor under the insole of Christopher’s shoe. He has a remote similar to a pager that he carries to turn it on and off.

Christopher calls the device “Nessy.”

“It’s a lot faster to say than Bioness L300 Foot Drop System,” he said.

He doesn’t wear it when playing sports because of the fear of damaging it and the high cost to replace it.

Today, he looks forward to playing baseball in the spring at HHS and in the summer with the American Legion program. Then, it’s his senior year with hopes of advancing farther into the football playoffs.

“I am so thankful for everything they’ve done,” Christopher said of the medical staff at Sanford Health and the help from GABR. “They’ve done so much for me that I’m almost shocked in disbelief.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Health ActiveArm ActiveLeg program or call 701.323.6097.


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