Health

Four-year-old Evander Conroy was born with a neuroblastoma tumor compressing his spinal cord. Because of the tumor, he’s never been able to move his legs.

Now, with physical therapy from a new machine invented in Louisville, Evander has taken his first steps.

The new machine is a small locomotor treadmill designed for children with spinal cord injuries. Similar tools exist for adults, but the machine developed by University of Louisville neurology professor Andrea Behrman along with the university’s Speed School of Engineering is the first designed specifically for children.

Behrman said having children use an adult system is like taking a 22 pound child, giving him an adult bicycle and expecting them to ride it.

“Now, we’re designing a system that works for the child, their size, as well as the clinicians. It’s going to be much more sensitive to his weight, so it interacts with the child’s weight to maintain a constant source of input to him,” she said.

Evander is the first child to use the new system at Frazier Rehab Institute. This is the third summer he and his mother, Clare Conroy, have traveled from Sydney, Australia for physical therapy in Louisville.

Conroy said other doctors’ prospects for her son were grim, but Dr. Behrman’s method gave the family a positive outlook.

“What we’ve found here is some hope and some promise and it’s been a lot of hard work but definitely worth it,” Conroy said.

A team of physical therapists guide Evander,4, in a series of exercises to increase mobility and function in his legs. Ja'Nel Johnson

A team of physical therapists guide Evander, 4, in a series of exercises to increase mobility and function in his legs.

Conroy’s family was told that Evander would never walk, stand, sit up or have active trunk muscles. But after working with Behrman and her team, Evander took his first step at the institute.

“The things he’s doing now we were told he would never do. So, the fact that he’s standing and stepping is…a lot of hard work, but it’s amazing stuff,” Conroy said.

Behrman said Evander has made significant progress over the last three years.

“He’s not yet walking from here to there independently, but he can take steps over ground under the right circumstances. He has much more trunk control than he ever would have had,” Behrman said.

During his five weeks in Louisville, Evander will also participate in research to better understand the muscle activity contributing to his progress for sitting, standing and stepping.