Opportunity for new hospital

Aquatic therapy pool would fill a real need in Burns Lake.

Last Thursday morning, four-year old Lena Mackereth was off to Houston for a physical therapy session in the Houston Leisure Facility pool.  Lena’s time in the Houston pool helps to mitigate the affects of her cerebral palsy (CP).

“Pool therapy is the best thing that you can do for kids like her,” said Crystal Mackereth, Lena’s mother.

But it’s a long way to travel from Burns Lake to Houston, especially in the winter months when the 160 km round-trip can be a dangerous proposition.  There are no facilities in Burns Lake for aquatic physical therapy, so Crystal has no choice but to make the trip.

Cerebral Palsy affects over 50,000 Canadians, with over 10,000 people in B.C. affected by the condition.  Another way of looking at it is that one in 500 babies will be born with CP.

According to Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C. (CPABC), this non-contagious, non-hereditary condition refers to ‘a group of disorders affecting body movement and muscle coordination.’  Because it is a condition and not a disease, there is no way to talk of a cure.

People suffering the condition experience varying degrees of difficulty coordinating muscle movement, which can severely impact mobility and quality of life, although there is not reason why a person with CP cannot achieve the same things in life that others achieve.

Currently, regional statistics for the number of people affected in Northern B.C., or in the Burns Lake area are not available.  The CPABC is compiling a report that will give a regional breakdown, but according to a CPABC spokesperson, that report won’t be ready until March 2013.

As Northern Health considers requests for proposals regarding the construction of a new hospital in Burns Lake, Crystal hopes that those in charge will consider including a physical therapy pool in the design plans.

She says that the pool needn’t be large, just big enough for a few people to be in so that someone like Lena could be assisted in their physical therapy routines.

For Lena, water therapy translates into greater freedom of movement and the possibility that she could postpone or diminish the effects of the CP.

“Lena has a tendency to cross her feet, to step on her feet when she takes a step,” said Crystal. “But when she’s in the pool she takes straighter steps.”

The freedom of movement found in the pool may teach her brain to make connections with her muscles that she might not otherwise make.  “It teaches her muscle that it’s okay to move freely like that,” Crystal said.

Jared Lalick, a registered physiotherapist, runs the Total Physiotherapy clinic in Burns Lake.  He supports Crystal’s enthusiasm for a pool.

“Standing and walking on her own are all easier to do in the pool,” Lalick said. “It gives the brain a chance to catch up with the [physical] action.”

Lena faces a series of surgeries soon at the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.  Surgery is not uncommon in young people with CP. After-surgery physical therapy is crucial to the success of these surgeries.  In Lena’s case, access to a pool will be critical.

“The only therapy that she could have is in the water,” said Crystal. “She won’t be able to stand or weight-bear or anything [for at least six months]. The only way that she’ll be able to get up and move around will be in a pool.”

A therapy pool at the new Burns Lake hospital wouldn’t only benefit kids like Lena, but it would immediately be put to use in the community at large.

“When people come out of those surgeries, especially for what Lena is going to go through, there’s a lot of bed rest and immobilization [post-surgery] so they get weak and tight,” Lalick said. “The pool helps us to get everything back on track.”

Aquatic therapy is a standard prescription for health, recovery and relief of pain.  Anyone who has been through soft-tissue surgery can relate to the importance of proper physio and the success of water-based treatments.

“There are so many people that I would put straight into a pool if we had one there [in Burns Lake],” said Lalick.

“It would never be empty.”