Young woman in cap and gown, wearing a sash that reads “Lakers 2018” walks to graduate from high school, with help

Incredible Journey to Walk at Graduation: Now onto College

By Jessica S., Starbuck

The night of June 1st, 2018 was incredible, not only for me and my family, but it got a standing ovation and brought teachers and people in the audience to tears. I walked across the stage at my high school graduation. It was a goal I had been working hard at for over a year in physical therapy.

Just four years earlier at the end of my eighth-grade year, I had been getting sick in the mornings and had headaches – the cause; a brain tumor. There were complications during the surgery to remove it and I developed posterior fossa syndrome. I couldn’t move or talk when I woke up from surgery. I even had a feeding tube. Two weeks later, we learned the tumor was cancerous so I underwent chemotherapy and radiation as well.

While at Children’s Hospital, I had to re-learn how to do everything – feeding myself, swallowing, and talking. When they felt I was ready, I was transferred to Gillette Children’s Hospital for more rehabilitation. After returning home, I continued outpatient physical and occupational therapy.

Just one year ago, I had three people helping me re-learn how to walk while on the parallel bars. This year, I walked at my graduation with no walker and only had my two therapists at my side just in case I needed assistance for the long walk. I made it.

Since starting physical therapy at Glacial Ridge Health System, the therapists, Amanda and Kacia, seem more experienced with my care and needs. They teach me by telling me how, then showing, and then having me teach back by doing it. I do different activities each session to develop more strength and ability. My tremors have gotten better. My core is stronger and I am able to self-transfer to and from my wheelchair. It’s something I continue to work on so I have more confidence that I can do it. I can do more now and have gained further independence. I can stand to pick out my own clothes and get in and out of bed much better. My mom, dad, and step-mom have all commented that I’ve improved through therapy.

Laura, Patti, and Nicole in occupational therapy helped me improve my fine motor skills needed for dressing, eating, handwriting, and signing my name. Because of my tremors, I have adaptive utensils to help me eat and write, but I can do it now.
Jessica S graduation PT OT sm

In high school, I got to be involved like everyone else. I was in Knowledge Bowl and attended camps for kids diagnosed with brain tumors. Last year, I went to prom with someone assisting me with balance. I also stayed for a week with my grandparents in Florida this spring and joined my high school band trip at Disney World. My paras were apprehensive about my ability to get on and off the bus – but I did it! I went on the Senior Class Trip to Como Zoo and a ferryboat cruise on the Mississippi River.

Some days I don’t want to go to physical therapy because it’s hard work. I have to do exercises at home every day to continue progressing as well. I continue to need therapy for core strength, sitting, rolling over, and transferring, but these skills have improved – I used to not be able to do them at all. I am also working on headache management through postural positioning, keeping my head in mid-line, and stretching.

Amanda and Kacia taught me how to self-advocate so I can do more things on my own. People always want to help and I appreciate that, but I want to do what I can independently. For some things, I may want someone to stand nearby or hold my wheelchair but not help unless it’s needed.

I am starting at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall now! I’ll have a student personal care attendant to help me when needed, but I’ll have my own dorm and be living on my own! Therapy will be built into my daily schedule so I can increase the strength and control of my muscles. I look forward to being able to transfer from my wheelchair and be able to sit on the floors in the dorm with friends.

I am so appreciative of my family’s support and all of the therapy I’ve received that has helped me to be able to do everything I can do now when just four years ago, I couldn’t even move or talk. I look forward to my adventures of college life.