Natalie is a 7 year old girl who loves toys, pretend play and drawing. Her life has not always been easy though. She was born with a heart condition that required her to have several open heart surgeries from the time she was born until 3 years of age. Due to complications from this, feeding was really difficult. At 6 months of age, Natalie had to receive a g-button because she was not getting the calories and nutrition she needed. A g-button is a medical device that is placed in the stomach for people that are unable to eat food orally. By the age of 4, her parents had tried every strategy recommended, had been to every specialist imaginable, and were feeling defeated with figuring out how to get their baby girl to eat and stay healthy. The family had seen feeding therapists since Natalie was 6 months old. Natalie’s parents wanted her to be able to eat without supplementing her feedings using the g-button. A local hospital that had been working with Natalie for 5 months had noted that she was not making progress. This hospital referred Natalie’s family to Leaps and Bounds.
When asked to describe Natalie’s therapist, Erin Wilhite MOTR/L, her parents stated, “Erin is AMAZING. We have been going to therapists for almost 4 years and within 4 months of seeing Erin we were basically off the g-button.”
Eating and mealtime had always provoked stress and anxiety. Natalie did not see mealtime as enjoyable. Her parents described every mealtime as a battle. Erin’s approach to therapy with Natalie was to use play and positive reinforcements and make eating fun. Erin also recognized that Natalie was unable to effectively move her tongue in and around her mouth which increased her difficulty of eating. She included in her treatment plan strengthening exercises for Natalie’s body, as well as the muscles directly involved in eating. Erin also began getting Natalie comfortable with tactile play. Erin describes a turning point for Natalie in which they were playing with shaving cream and Natalie was so engaged in throwing a ball with shaving cream that she was covered in it. Then she helped Natalie work on being comfortable with having food in her environment and in close proximity to her. Later, Erin and Natalie opened weekly “restaurants” at Leaps and Bounds in which they prepared food for other kids at Leaps and Bounds and taste-tested it to make sure that it was “ready to serve”.
Natalie has now been discharged from therapy at Leaps and Bounds and is doing great. Natalie’s mom reported that after coming to Leaps and Bounds their family feels less stress and is now able to go out to eat together as a family.
Natalie’s family had kept her g-button in for daily medicine, but no longer needed it for feeding. We are happy to report that Natalie is now able to take her medicine orally so they were able to have the g-button removed in April. Natalie’s mom stated, “After Natalie’s heart surgeon, Erin has had the most positive impact on her life, we would have been lost without her.”