On His Own Two Feet, 'He Captured Our Hearts'

Posted on February 26, 2016 by Alice Jackson
Alice Jackson

Dr. Dennis Fell, USA chair of physical therapy, helps Kadeon stand with assistance from Jennifer Melancon, a USA physical therapy graduate, during a medical mission trip to Trinidad. data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Dennis Fell, USA chair of physical therapy, helps Kadeon stand with assistance from Jennifer Melancon, a USA physical therapy graduate, during a medical mission trip to Trinidad.

Last December in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 2-year-old Kadeon and his mother waited with high hopes to meet with visiting Americans on a medical mission trip. Any health care is a challenge in Trinidad, but it was especially difficult for Kadeon, whose legs have been paralyzed since birth. He had ankle braces in hopes of walking one day, but they were outdated. On this day, his mother carried him, as usual, in her arms.

The American medical missionaries were 31 University of South Alabama health care students, faculty, staff and alumni from six departments and three colleges. The Trinidad trip was the group’s second interprofessional mission abroad, and their meeting with Kadeon would be very special.

Before Kadeon reached the front of the line for triage by USA nursing or physician assistant students, a variety of people had been helped with various problems, everything from diabetes to infections, and even a woman in her 80s whose legs were weak with arthritis. She left with a rolling walker donated by Goodwill/Easter Seals.

“Trinidad has health care, but the system is overrun. If you try to get medical care, it takes a long time,” said Dr. Dennis Fell, chair of physical therapy. “Many of the people we saw simply needed better education regarding the management of chronic health problems, but if they needed more care than we could provide, we tried to connect them with resources in that community.”

“Kadeon came in with his mother on the second day of our mission, in the afternoon, and from a resource standpoint, we knew immediately he was the most challenging case we’d seen yet,” Fell said. “We’d taken canes and walkers and taping supplies to tape joints and such, but we didn’t think we had the correct size of orthosis appliance to fit a child with Kadeon’s problems. We knew if we couldn’t help him, he likely wasn’t going to get help anytime soon.”

Undaunted, the group remembered some pediatric leg braces in the equipment bag that might fit the toddler.

“I was kind of skeptical because such braces have to fit so precisely, but we gave it a try. We pulled the equipment out of our supplies, laid him down and discussed what would be needed to make it work,” Fell said. “The joint hinges of the brace were in exactly the right place, so we were able to make it fit with adjustments.”

Finally, Kadeon was assisted to stand and test their work.

“That was the first time in his two years that Kadeon had been able to stand. By the time he left with his mother, he had the capability to stand with the brace,” Fell said. “Standing and being in an upright position is very important to development and social interactions. It was an emotional time for his mom to see him stand for the first time and to know that people had come there and donated their time to do that.”

Fell said this medical mission trip was unique because it involved so many elements of USA – the Pat Capps Covey College of Allied Health Professions, the College of Nursing and the College of Medicine. The trip was organized by Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama, an interdenominational group of campus organizations that donates time and resources to provide health care for the needy, and the trip was directed by Duane Baxter, a USA alumnus.

Fell noted the trip was important for students because “this was the most significant interdisciplinary educational experience they have had.”

“Instead of just hearing about helping people in other countries, they actually saw how professionals can work together to change lives,” Fell said.

Tyler Vaughn, a junior physical therapy major, from Murphy, N.C., was one of the students who assisted with Kadeon.

“I was nervous to be involved with a pediatric case, but Dr. Fell let me jump right in. From looking at the CT scans, to doing ankle mobilizations on Kadeon’s little feet, to testing sensations, to watching the orthotic fitting, to seeing his big smile and wide eyes throughout the whole process, up until he triumphantly stood for the first time, he captured our hearts,” Tyler said.

“Being able to help this little boy stand for the first time on his own and getting to see the huge smile on his face is the reason I want to be a physical therapist,” said Christa Roscigno, a sophomore physical therapy major from Slidell, La. “It was a true honor and life-changing experience to be able to help Kadeon and his family, and I look forward to seeing how he progresses with his walking.”

Even after leaving Trinidad, the USA group continued working to change Kadeon’s life. Within a week, Fell sent a posterior walker to Kadeon via a Georgia group of volunteers headed to the same city. Now, they are working on raising funds to continue to help by providing additional equipment and therapy for Kadeon and, perhaps, even bringing him to USA.

Tax-deductible donations for Kadeon’s rehabilitation can be made to the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama by mailing a check to CMMSA, P.O. Box 851898, Mobile, AL 36685, or by visiting http://www.cmmsa.org/donate. CMMA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“Kadeon will probably outgrow his current equipment by summer or early fall,” Fell said. “The group hopes to have a plan in place to provide equipment for his next step.”

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