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Giving New Meaning to Patient Care: Hospital Takes Patients with Cerebral Palsy on a Ski Trip to Windham Mountain

Some young people with cerebral palsy and other conditions exceeded their own expectations during a ski trip to Windham Mountain on February 15. The Adaptive Sports Academy at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) sponsored the trip for young patients who see doctors or physical therapists at the hospital.

The hospital’s Adaptive Sports Academy enables pediatric patients with physical disabilities to participate in athletic activities they never dreamed possible. Some have had multiple surgeries to improve their mobility and have been patients at HSS for years.

The Adaptive Sports Academy sponsors trips and recreational activities at no cost to participants to build their self-confidence, encourage independence and increase mobility. The trips are possible thanks to the generosity of donors who support the academy.

Adaptive sports programs promote physical activity for people with disabilities. Trained volunteers from the Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham provided instruction and adapted equipment for the participants.

"The Adaptive Sports Academy gives our patients a chance to develop new skills and interests, and it promotes mobility and activity. It also reinforces therapy goals by engaging participants in a new activity and requiring them to use their bodies in a new way," explained Dr. Lisa Ipp, chief of Pediatric Medicine at HSS. "They always feel empowered after trying a new activity and succeeding."

Eight patients ranging in age from 8 to 16 went on the trip. Most have cerebral palsy or another condition that affects body movement, muscle control, posture and balance. Some of the young people use walking canes, but that didn’t stop them from gliding down the bunny slope. It was the academy’s third trip to Windham Mountain, but for many of the kids, it was their first time skiing.

"It’s amazing to see her. She has cerebral palsy and some doctors said she wasn’t going to walk. I want to cry," said Angel Redmond, who marveled at seeing her daughter on skis. Fourteen year-old Niayrah has had several surgeries at HSS to improve her mobility.

"Participating in the adaptive ski program was an incredible experience for all and came at such an opportune time as we cheer on Team USA in the winter Olympics! Our children work so hard in their weekly therapy sessions, and this is a way to bring those skills to life, in a real and natural setting," said Lorene Janowski, an occupational therapist certified in pediatrics at Hospital for Special Surgery who went on the trip. "Most people take for granted our automatic movement patterns. Children with physical disabilities put a lot of effort and planning into moving their bodies; therefore adaptive activities such as skiing, are a way for them to challenge themselves, even if it means making modifications and adaptations to meet their goals," said Janowski, who enjoys skiing herself.

"I get to slide down the hill, 50 miles per hour," exclaimed eight year-old Maya Vega, who attended the ski trip with her mother and twin sister, Alexandria.

"It’s a fun and novel experience for the kids, an opportunity for them to be outside, to get the feeling of using their body in a different way," said Dr. David Scher, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in treating people with cerebral palsy, who was unable to make this year’s outing, but has been on two previous trips. "For the first time, many can experience that feeling of going fast down a hill, and it’s exhilarating for them."

"This is a fabulous experience for the kids," said Andrea Conroy, whose 12 year-old son Aidan made it past the bunny slope. "When you offer this to him, it gives him the opportunity to feel like he can do anything. It helps with his self-esteem and his self-confidence, and he can take that with him when he leaves here."

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Scher with patient Isabella Cottone on last year's ski trip sponsored by Hospital for Special Surgery.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Scher with patient Isabella Cottone on last year's ski trip sponsored by Hospital for Special Surgery.