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Success with VitalStim®

Debi Lindsey, SLP, Clinical Education Manager

In August of 2009, I responded to an evaluation request for an infant feeding evaluation in my treatment area. When I met Sarah, I was instantly smitten. I learned that Sarah was given a rare diagnosis of VATER syndrome, a non-random association of birth defects caused by unknown genes or sets of genes. I discovered that Sarah had previously been hospitalized for aspiration pneumonia secondary to dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties. Her doctor had recommended a g-tube, but wanted to try speech therapy first, as he knew that speech therapists treat feeding and swallowing disorders, thereby preventing the need for a g-tube.

Sarah was a perfect candidate for a therapy called Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES), a new treatment approved by the FDA that applies an electrical current to the muscles of the neck to improve swallowing function. I was trained and certified in VitalStim® for application of NMES (KidsCare Therapy hosted and paid for my training!) and knew that Sarah would benefit from the use of VitalStim®, combined with traditional swallowing therapy. Overall, Sarah underwent 24 treatments of VitalStim®, two times a week, for six weeks, for one hour sessions. Over time, we began to decrease the thickening of her formula with the use of NMES, until she needed no thickener at all! The doctor’s office reported that she was steadily gaining weight and that her lungs were clear. She eventually transitioned to Gerber Stage One food, and at re-evaluation time Sarah was a healthy little girl with an insatiable appetite for carrots and bananas, who no longer needed my services. I was saddened that our time was at an end, as I admit that holding my little patient had been quite therapeutic for me; however, I was so happy to see her make such profound progress. I still get periodic updates from her mother, complete with pictures and videos, informing me of her progress and her latest “ornery” act.

I will never forget Sarah and the feeling I get every time I see a picture of her, knowing that in the future when she gets a Happy Meal or eats a piece of birthday cake (with lots of frosting, of course!), that I had an important role in helping her overcome a disorder that would have kept her from a lot of the simple pleasures in life that we take for granted. Because of KidsCare Therapy’s willingness to provide me with the professional development to be trained in VitalStim®, I was able to change a life and make a difference in the world. At the end of the day, with all of the stresses and struggles of my career, I know in my heart that it is stories like Sarah’s that keep me going.

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