Marquis Lane, a young African American man, seated wearing a navy Georgia sweatshirt with four friends behind him at a stadium

CP Stories: Marquise Lane

Marquise Lane, with a beaming smile and glasses sits listening to music in his college dorm with a navy football sweatshirt

Marquise is always smiling ear to ear — here while listening to music in his dorm room.

It’s a daily decision to keep fighting and believing in yourself.
Marquise Lane
Client Success Specialist

For Marquise Lane, succeeding at college wasn’t just a matter of working hard and pushing himself academically. Conquering his CP mobility hurdles and achieving independence were also vital.

When Marquise Lane graduated from UGA in 2016 with a BA in Management Information Systems (MIS) the moment was extra special to him.

As a young person with cerebral palsy, Marquise hadn’t just put in the hours of study needed to gain his degree, he’d also worked tirelessly to overcome the physical hurdles holding him back from his college dreams.

In high school, Marquise got up very early to make sure he dressed himself – here in khakis and a grey argyle sweater.

Marquise was determined to be independent from an early age so he made sure he got up early to have time to dress himself.

“I always wanted to go to college,” says Marquise, 27, who lives in Valdosta, GA. “But it wasn’t the mental things like the schoolwork that were in the way, it was more of the physical things like dressing and putting shoes on.”

Armed with a positive mental attitude, Marquise took on the challenge with gusto. Throughout his 12th grade, he got up extra early in order to practice mastering the independent skills he needed to succeed.

“I had to leave the house at 7 am so I’d get up at 5.30 am to give myself that extra time to dress and put my shoes on by myself – just to practice,” he recalls. “For a while I needed help but I got to the point where I was independent enough. Eventually, my mom agreed I was ready to go to college.”

Marquise was diagnosed with Spastic Diplegia cerebral palsy at the age of three and says he grew up fully understanding what having CP meant.

A young Marquise, in a white t-shirt, demonstrates his domestic skills by ironing a pair of his dark slacks

A young Marquise Lane takes up ironing his own slacks to help out around the house.

As a young boy, Marquise wanted to do the same activities as other kids his age but also knew his circumstances were different

At seven years old, Marquise wanted to do all the activities his peers did including baseball!

“My mom’s always been big on talking to me like an adult so from three I knew what I had,” he says. “I don’t really like the word “different” because I do feel like I’m a normal person, I just have a different set of circumstances I have to deal with. As a younger kid I looked at other kids and saw them do things like swing on the monkey bars and then play football and sport. I wanted to do that too, but it was hard because I couldn’t. You have to fight that feeling of “I’m not good enough” or “I’m weird.” Every day you have to wake up and focus on the small victories and the positive things you’ve done. That provides momentum to keep going forward.”

At UGA, Marquise lived alone on campus in an accessible room and says he is grateful for the friends he made who would always lend a helping hand with things like Walmart and barbershop runs. His challenges on campus ranged from navigating the hills in Athens, GA, to working out how to get from A to B. From the start, the college paired him with a disability coordinator tasked with ensuring all his classes were accessible and that he had all the help and resources he needed.

“UGA went out of its way to make sure I could get to where I needed to be,” he says. “I had all the tools I needed to succeed academically and UGA provided a van service that took me from class to class and just about anywhere else on campus I needed to go.

Marquise Lane sits down on his aluminum walker smiling with a wrought iron arch and a building with white pillars behind him

Marquise Lane sits on his walker smiling while on his college campus

“There were several occasions where an entire 300-person class was moved because the original building wasn’t accessible for me and I had letters to share with professors so they were aware of any special assistance I needed.”

Regardless, it took stamina and endurance for Marquise to keep pushing toward his academic goals.

“It was tough at times,” he says. “When you look around you see that most people don’t have to work as hard as you do to accomplish basic tasks. They don’t have to worry about accessibility and how far away things are. I learned to focus on myself and limit comparisons.”

Marquise Lane, in a red sweatshirt at a job fair, sits holding a large white sign with the words “Hire Me” in red

Marquise was not shy in pursuing work out of college.

He cites graduating from college as the culmination of belief in himself and hard work. “It showed me and my family that I could do anything I put my mind to,” he says.

Since graduating in May 2016, Marquise has worked as a client success specialist for ProcessPlan. His goal now is to continue living independently and advance his career.

“There isn’t some magical point where you have things figured out and that’s it,” he says. “Having a vision for the things you want to accomplish in life helps. Once you have a vision, you can break that down into actionable steps and go forward. It’s a daily decision to keep fighting and believing in yourself.”

Dr. Laura Gilbert, with shoulder length brown hair and a green shirt, smiles broadly. Her dystonia abstract won her an award

Dystonia Agenda Takes Center Stage at Child Neurology Society Meeting

Laura Gilbert, DO, a pediatric neurologist, with shoulder length brown hair and a dark green shirt, smiles broadly.

Laura Gilbert, DO, has won a Junior Member Award from the Child Neurology Society, for her abstract on a patient-centered dystonia research agenda.

Dr. Laura Gilbert, a pediatric neurologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, has been selected to present our Dystonia in Cerebral Palsy patient-centered research agenda at the Child Neurology Society (CNS) meeting in Boston, MA in September 2021.

Her talk, entitled, “Top 10 Areas of Research Need for People with Cerebral Palsy and Dystonia: A Novel Community-driven Agenda,” is based on collaborative work she carried out with the Network to engage the community in a research priority setting process for dystonia in CP in 2020.

“Dr. Gilbert played a significant role in the organization and analysis of our dystonia agenda setting process,” said Bhooma Aravamuthan, MD, DPhil, a pediatric movement disorders specialist from Washington University in St. Louis. “She is a smart and savvy burgeoning clinician researcher. It’s been a gift to see her interest bloom in dystonia in CP.”

The Child Neurology Society gathers neurologists annually to advance research and the treatment of pediatric neurological conditions. The live platform presentation has been selected as one of the top 20 abstracts submitted to the meeting. Further congratulations are in order for Dr. Gilbert who will be recognized as one of four Outstanding Junior Members for her work.

Her talk, and talks by her mentor Dr. Aravamuthan, will increase the focus on CP at this year’s CNS meeting. This increased focus will improve child neurologist awareness of issues faced by people with CP and promote research opportunities in the field.

“Traveling with a wheelchair” on a bright green banner with a pic of a wheelchair aside a plane by the ramp to enter the plane

Traveling With a Wheelchair

A damning report has revealed how the country’s leading airlines have lost or damaged at least 15,425 wheelchairs or scooters since the end of 2018. As we travel from A to B, what steps can we take to safeguard the precious cargo our community relies on?

Traveling by air can be stressful for anyone but handing over a wheelchair to busy airline staff and hoping to find it unscathed and fully-functioning at your destination can feel like a lottery. Sadly, for many traveling with disabilities, vacations and other trips too often go hand-in-hand with the frustrating fallout of damaged equipment.

“As a family with a wheelchair user it is a continual frustration that airlines often take such little care,” says CPRN’s Michele Shusterman. “It seems like airlines would rather pay thousands of dollars to repair or replace broken equipment instead of figuring out a process for not destroying them. Some of the experiences our community members go through are awful.”

As we await much needed change and a commitment to better care from airlines, there are some preemptive measures we can take to lower the risks of equipment being damaged in transit. Here’s our guide to traveling with a wheelchair:

Before you go, carry out maintenance.

Making sure your equipment is in the best shape possible before leaving will help it to be more durable and robust on your travels.

MANUAL WHEELCHAIRS: The newer designs of manual wheelchairs have solid inner tubes to combat against flats. Before you leave, check the tires for any inflation issues, cuts, or wear on the tread (Miller, 2017). Be sure to check the wheel locks, ensuring that they engage and disengage easily without getting caught. Go through and tighten bolts and nuts on any moving parts. This is to avoid any parts being lost during transit.

BATTERY-POWERED WHEELCHAIRS: Run through the same checks for the tires prior to your trip and consider book a service for your equipment. Battery-powered wheelchairs routinely need to be checked by an authorized dealer once or twice a year (Miller, 2017). An expert can check your battery voltage and flag up if it needs to be replaced soon.

Get familiar with the airline codes.

Airlines have a series of codes for people traveling with equipment or disability. These codes are called Special Service Request Codes, or SSR, and are given to you when you get your ticket (wheelchairtravel, 2020). They are used to keep track of special assistance requests and to assign appropriate staff to the person in need.

A few of these codes include:

CODE DESCRIPTION
WCHR Wheelchair assistance required
WCOB On-board wheelchair requested
WCMP Traveling with manual wheelchair
WCBD Traveling with dry cell battery-powered wheelchair. (WCBW for wet cell battery)

You’ll find a more comprehensive list here. Ensure that your flight ticket is marked with the correct one.

Attach instructions to your equipment.
Traveling with a wheelchair tips: A spare manual wheelchair is pictured on the tarmac with a bright pink instructional signTraveling with a wheelchair tips: A wheelchair should include handling instructions and fight details attached to the chair
It seems like a no-brainer that wheelchairs and other expensive and precious equipment should be handled with the utmost care but that can be far from the reality. Sadly, your equipment will likely encounter people who are unfamiliar with how it works and don’t have the time or inclination to find out how to operate it correctly. Attaching laminated instructions and bright reminder signs to your equipment can help to prevent rough mishandling.

Consider taking a spare if you have one.

Sometimes it is better to plan for the worst outcome so that mobility isn’t impaired during the trip. Take a spare wheelchair, often a manual one, if you can do so. This will ensure an easy back up if the airline does damage the wheelchair before you get to your destination. Having a spare wheelchair can also help when accessing certain areas where a power wheelchair may have some difficulties. If you do not have a spare, be mindful of the resources available to you in the area you are traveling. See if renting a wheelchair is an option.

Preparation for flight at the airport
Traveling with a wheelchair tips: A manual chair is bound with cellophane and loose items removed in prep for travel.
If you are using a manual collapsible wheelchair, ask if the aircraft has a closet large enough to accommodate it. This ensures you can take your equipment all the way to the gate. If your equipment is being stored in the cargo hold with baggage, carefully remove anything that you think may come lose during handling. Ask for reassurance that it will be handled with care.

Ask for assistance if you need it – it’s your right.

Airlines must provide assistance and offer preboarding to passengers with disabilities who make their needs known prior to travel or at the gate. Get familiar with the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA), a law that guarantees people with disabilities the right to receive fair and nondiscriminatory treatment when traveling on flights operated by airlines in the U.S (wheelchairtravel, 2020).

If an airline damages your equipment, it may be covered.
Plane travel with a wheelchair is challenging: a wheelchair, collapsed on its side, rides up a luggage ramp into an airplane
Airlines are mainly responsible for damaging equipment during their flights. This can be up to the entire cost of the original listing price of the wheelchair. For this process to happen properly, report damages IMMEDIATELY after your flight. This further ensures that it is documented and brought to the right people, a step in the direction of making the airline 100% responsible for damages!

Sources:

Flying With A Wheelchair: Guide To Air Travel For People With Disabilities. Wheelchair Travel. (2020, January 30).

Miller, F., & Bachrach, S. J. (2017). Cerebral palsy: a complete guide for caregiving (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dr. Mary Gannotti with shoulder length brown hair smiles broadly in red blouse and brown blazer

Join our Webinar on Adult Wellbeing and Pain in Cerebral Palsy

How does your lived experience align with the initial results from our chronic pain study?

Mary Gannotti, PT, PhD, smiles with brown shoulder length hair, a red blouse and a brown blazer.

Mary Gannotti, PT, PhD

Compiling information about the chronic pain and wellbeing challenges many adults with cerebral palsy experience, sometimes on a daily basis, is an important priority for the Cerebral Palsy Research Network as we work to improve health outcomes for our community.

On Monday, July 19, at 8 pm ET, Mary Gannotti, PT, PhD, co-principal investigator of the CP Research Network’s adult study group, will present an update on our adult study of wellbeing and chronic pain.

Dr. Gannotti’s study seeks to gather cross-sectional data from 500 adults with CP to demonstrate health differences between adults with CP and the adult population overall. This interim report includes data from approximately the first 200 participants in the study.

“Members of the community will find it valuable to see how their personal lived experience aligns with many other adults with CP,” says Paul Gross, President, CEO and Co-Founder of the CP Research Network. “Dr. Gannotti will discuss how we plan to use these findings to support additional adult research and to advocate for policy changes in healthcare to improve health outcomes for adults with CP.”

Prior to Tuesday’s virtual event, MyCP webinar series registrants and MyCP members will receive a reminder with a link to the webinar. If you are not subscribed to the series, you can sign up for this individual webinar on our MyCP Webinar Series page.

The presentation will last for approximately 30 minutes and be followed by an open Q&A with Dr. Gannotti. All of our webinars are recorded and posted on our YouTube channel subsequent to the live webinar. You can also view Dr. Gannotti’s inaugural presentation after we initially launched the study in 2019.

Adults with CP can still participate in the study which is hosted in our Community Registry on MyCP.

CPRN’s progress as a Learning Health Network is published!

The Cerebral Palsy Research Network’s progress as a Learning Health Network (LHN) has been published in the Journal for Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine this past week.

Primary author Amy Bailes, PT, PhD, published a self-assessment from leaders in the Cerebral Palsy Research Network using a tool developed by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital called the Network Maturity Grid (NMG).[1] The NMG is used to detail the maturation of necessary infrastructure and processes to create learning networks (LNs).

Bailes’ publication, the fourth since the CP Research Network’s inception six years ago, provides a glimpse into future directions for the network’s development. It details a standardizing scoring rubric used to assess progress across six domains including:

  • Systems of Leadership
  • Governance and Management
  • Quality Improvement
  • Engagement of Stakeholders
  • Data and Analytics
  • Research

The results were tabulated and graphed to provide insights into progress in each domain and areas for improvement.

The CP Research Network’s leadership team amalgamated this analysis to identify key investments that will improve our network maturity over the next five years. Moving forward, these investments will be centered on leadership development, financial sustainability, quality improvement training, the capture of patient-reported outcomes, and enhancing the quality of data collection.

The purple cover of the Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine has its title and graphics of children playing, a person in a wheelchair, walkers and helping hands inside of green, pink and orange circles.

The cover of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine.

The Network will incorporate the NMG tool into annual planning. Investments will be measured over the course of a five-year strategic plan for 2021-2025.

Members of the professional and academic community can access the article online with a Journal subscription. Community members may download the original article (prior to revisions required by the editors) from our website.

The UP Academy Team

CP Stories: Tanya Sheckley and UP Academy

Meet the CP mom who overcame her grief to build an incredible inclusive school in her daughter’s memory

Everyone needs a place to belong. Inclusivity is life.
Tanya Sheckley
Mom, Inclusive School Creator

Tanya Sheckley’s vision of creating an inclusive school empowering ALL children was almost shattered with the untimely death of her beloved daughter Eliza. Yet, the resilient mother channeled her grief into creating a school to embody everything Eliza taught her about ableism, education, and empathy.

Like many CP parents, Tanya Sheckley worked hard to research education options for her daughter Eliza, who was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

As her daughter’s kindergarten years approached, Tanya, who lives in Mountain View, California, was dismayed to learn that many schools provided the bare minimum when it came to educating children with disabilities.

Tanya Sheckley in a red blouse smiles at her daughter Eliza who is wearing a magenta taffeta party dress with red flowers in the neckline.

Tanya Sheckley with her daughter Eliza.

Eventually, Tanya found a parent participation school that was great for Eliza, who was unable to walk or talk due to her cerebral palsy. Her daughter’s new kindergarten teacher had experience in special education and Tanya was happy to see Eliza thrive.

“She learned to read, do math, and was curious about science,” recalls Tanya. “Kids didn’t see her as ‘different.’ She fit in, she was happy and became one of the most popular kids at school. She did well academically with accommodation for the way she learned. We had gotten lucky.”

By first grade, things were changing. Despite Eliza’s stellar kindergarten record, Tanya and her husband Chris were frustrated by the recommendation to put their bright and inquisitive daughter into a modified curriculum for children with different abilities. The one-size-fits-all model meant the work would be made easier, and Eliza would not be expected to learn the same material as her able-bodied classmates.

Under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are required to provide access to education. Unfortunately, in a system built to educate the masses, children who are “different” often aren’t encouraged to excel in the same way as their peers.

“It felt like a barrier to providing real opportunity,” says Tanya. “Just because a student doesn’t have an effective and consistent method of expressing knowledge doesn’t mean the student doesn’t possess the knowledge. All students should be challenged in areas of strengths and supported in areas of weakness so they leave school with the knowledge and skills to be successful and independent in the world.”

Tanya, who had previously worked in business and taught as a yoga and ski instructor, became frustrated that no one school could support Eliza and her younger siblings Breda and Keller in their individual strengths. Why couldn’t there be an inclusive elementary school set up for all children to thrive?

In 2015, she decided to create an inclusive school for kids with disabilities and their able-bodied siblings.

Kids work on painting and decorating a wall at the new UP Academy.

Students decorate the wall at UP Academy.

The determined mother sought funding, secured a lease, raised awareness, and reached out to her community to recruit and admit kids who would benefit from everything the school would have to offer. The new school, UP Academy, gained 501c3 status in December 2015.

Then the unthinkable happened. Eliza passed away in her sleep in March of 2016.

“It was completely unexpected,” says Tanya. “Eliza was fine and was having fun but one Friday she came home from school early because she was tired and not feeling well. I laid her down for a nap and told her I loved her. Our nanny was there to care for all three of our children so I went to the grocery store.

“When I checked on Eliza later she wasn’t breathing and her lips were blue. We did CPR until help arrived and Eliza was transported to the hospital where they did all they could. But there was nothing more the doctors could do. Walking out and leaving her behind was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.”

Despite her grief, Tanya could not give up on the school.

“I needed to find a way for the grief to serve me,” she says. “My family needed me to still be a mother and wife, and Eliza had taught me about ableism, education, and empathy. I had learned too much to walk away. I could lay in bed all day or use what I have learned to help others. There were still many families of children with disabilities who couldn’t find a fit for their children in the education system. To honor Eliza and to help them, I needed to work to create change.”

For the next two years, Tanya continued to build the school and welcomed her first group of students in 2018. There were plenty of challenges. The school’s first building lease fell through but Tanya persuaded a local church to let her use their rooms for a time. Eventually another location was found and the school has had a permanent home in San Mateo for the past three years.

With 20 students enrolled in UP Academy, Tanya is considering opening another location next year in the San Francisco Bay area. It is her vision to encourage other parents and educators to launch their own schools with a course she created, the Rebel Educator Accelerator.

“When we all work together, we can be more creative and achieve more,” she says. “Our vision for UP Academy is to build a method of education that can be shared and replicated. By teaching, training and sharing our curriculum with other schools we can serve more students in new and innovative ways.”

There is not a day that passes without Tanya thinking about her daughter who continues to inspire her.

“Eliza was sweet and kind,” she says. “She loved people and spending time with her friends. She was stubborn and wanted things to be done her way. She made decisions quickly and stood by them. We still have a dish we call Eliza Guacamole, which is smashed avocado and banana.

“It’s important to remember that despite any disability, all kids want to play, learn and make friends. Everyone needs a place to belong. Inclusivity is life, it is love, it is understanding and empathy, it is the thing that allows us to learn and work and play together.”

[ends]

The patient priority framework from PSCORE shows an interrelationship between patient priorities, interventions and outcomes for living with cerebral palsy.

A step forward in Standardizing Patient Reported Outcomes

Hospitals and clinicians in the Cerebral Palsy Research Network will be able to track, learn from, and compare outcomes for their patient populations thanks to our selection of standardized patient outcome measures. The CP Research Network has collaborated with Dr. Unni Narayanan, the subject of our recent CP Stories series, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, to standardize a validated set of patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) across the network. Working closely with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio and Dr. Narayanan’s PRIORITY-BASED SCALES FOR CHILDREN’S OUTCOMES – RESEARCH & EVALUATION (PSCORE) Program, the CP Research Network has released electronic versions of two PROMs to collate patient information across sites in our network.

The Gait Outcomes Assessment List (GOAL) and the Caregiver Priorities and Child Health Index of Life with Disabilities (CPCHILD) will ensure CP families can provide information and communicate their needs to clinicians in patient facing portals like Epic’s MyChart. On a wider scale this submitted data will also help improve treatment more widely in the CP community. Shared decision-making helps balance the input of doctors and experts with the priorities and preferences of patients and their families.

The patient priority framework from PSCORE shows an interrelationship among patient priorities, interventions and outcomes for people living with cerebral palsy.

The patient priority framework from PSCORE shows an interrelationship among patient priorities, interventions and outcomes for living with cerebral palsy.

In addition to these benchmarking capabilities, the PROMs allow patients and patient families to identify important goals, which clinicians can take into account as they make decisions about treatments. And the standardization of PROMs holds the promise to improve medical and surgical outcomes across the network.

Dr. Narayanan has been funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) to study the impact of these tools in improving shared decision making.

Patient families can use these tools today in MyCP – the CP Research Network’s personalized platform for cerebral palsy resources. The CPCHILD and GOAL Questionnaires are available in the MyCP Community Registry that can be taken annually to track a child’s progress across numerous domains like activities of daily living, mobility or participation. Once a family takes the survey, they can download a PDF of their results which includes their important goals, and bring these results to an appointment with their CP focused physician or therapy team.

The CP Research Network will enhance these tools over time to provide summary reports that will include the scores and list of important goals to better support shared decision making. Parents of children under the age of 18 can sign up for MyCP and take these surveys now.

Dr. Amy Bailes webinar on what is a learning health network.

What is a Learning Health Network – and why should you care?

Amy Bailes, PT, PhD

Amy Bailes, PT, PhD

On Monday, June 21, at 8 pm ET, we invite you to tune in for our next MyCP Webinar, to discover why the Cerebral Palsy Research Network is working to become a learning health network and how doing so will enhance our efforts to improve health outcomes.

The webinar will be presented by Amy Bailes PT PhD, leader of the CP Research Network’s quality improvement initiatives. She will outline how learning networks – that often form a registry at their core – can quickly gather and share data that rapidly improve treatment experiences for patients.

During the 40 minute webinar, Dr. Bailes, a physical therapist and researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, will also outline the CP Research Network’s efforts to become a learning health network and how that ties in to clinical initiatives we already have underway.

“Taking the most effective practices from the best CP centers across the nation and spreading those practices in a systematic fashion, will have profound impact on the health of people with CP,” says Dr. Bailes. “This is how we should be caring for all people with CP.”

Learning health networks seek to improve outcomes through a combination of research and quality improvement (QI) initiatives. While some research studies can take years to complete and can require more time to affect a change in practice, QI initiatives can drive systemic change and bring results as early as six months.

“While QI cannot answer fundamental questions about treatment effectiveness or discover new therapeutic interventions, it can be used to dramatically improve health outcomes very rapidly,” says Paul Gross, President and Chief Executive Officer of CP Research Network.

Members of the community, clinicians and researchers interested in learning more about the CP Research Network’s drive to become a learning health network can tune in to the June 21 webinar by registering on the sidebar at the top (or on the MyCP Webinar Registration page).

The Shrader children -- triplets to the right with sister Cate on the left.

Preparing for College – Part 3

Carol Shrader, mother of four, two of whom have cerebral palsy.

In the third installment of her inspiring story, CP and triplet mom Carol Shrader shares how she watched her son Benjamin, who has spastic quadriplegia, flourish during his college years…

The night before my son Benjamin began his freshman year, I could not sleep. I worried all night long.

“I know, right?” my husband Wade consoled, observing my nervous disposition. “I have been thinking about this day for 18 years!”

Benjamin, our triplet with spastic quadriplegia, lived at home with us and his younger sister Cate for the first three years of college, but getting around campus independently was still a big deal.

He was only a week and a half into the first semester when we hit our first snag. Benjamin was heading across campus in his wheelchair with a fellow student and following her lead. When she pointed at the curb where they needed to cross the street and asked him if he could make it, he assumed it was flat. Unfortunately, his depth-perception issues prevented him from knowing for sure. It wasn’t flat. He drove right off the curb.

His professor called me, and I rushed to the campus to find my shaken son, clearly in pain and surrounded by college kids, security, and the head of the theatre department. The footplates on his wheelchair were the only thing that prevented him from landing on his face. His feet still took the brunt of the 300-pound weight of him and his wheelchair.

I have never wanted to jerk back control of a situation more – and it was clear I needed to.

Quickly rearranging my schedule, I ensured I could be on campus the rest of the school year. I assisted between classes, shuttling Benjamin between the upper campus and the lower campus where theatre classes were held. I brought him lunch. I took care of his toileting needs. I brought him back to campus for late night events and drove him wherever he needed to go, ensuring he could fulfill his college kid schedule.

At the same time, I worked to find ways to help him achieve independence. I began by phoning the ADA compliance officer and asking for the sidewalks to be revamped on campus. They needed ramps so Benjamin could navigate them safely. When the ramps were consistently blocked by mail delivery vehicles, maintenance, and even professors, I called the dean.

With problems still arising, I called the university president and, in my sweetest Mama Bear voice, told him that Benjamin could not succeed at his college if he could not ever get into the classrooms. A few weeks later, every ramp on campus had been repainted with the words “DO NOT BLOCK” in bold letters.

Meanwhile, Benjamin worked with the ADA office to secure a scribe for tests. The professors assigned a student to copy their notes for him. I was his scribe at home for each assignment. We even burned the midnight oil together, working on a 24-hour theatre assignment to write a play overnight so his team could memorize lines and perform them the next day. Poor Benjamin had to dictate to a scribe who fell asleep between lines.

The triplet’s freshman year continued to be a long year of learning for all of us. Mason was doing well, living a relatively independent life on campus at his college. Claire, my triplet without cerebral palsy, had moved onto campus about half an hour from our home. Throughout her four years, she called, texted, and sent video messages. Sometimes she would share a funny story about life on campus; sometimes, she just needed her mom and emotional support.

When April arrived, I noticed a shift in Benjamin. During a course selection meeting with his advisor, he took an assertive new tone.

“I need to arrange my schedule so that I am at the upper campus for three days a week and the theatre campus for two days a week or vice versa,” he said. “I need for my mom to be able to leave me on campus.”

By the time Benjamin began his sophomore year, he had a personal care team trained to assist him. Having a personal care attendant meant he could be independent of me and could organize his study time, extra-curricular activities, and classes the way he wanted. By his senior year, Benjamin felt confident to move into a newly built dorm with accessible units. It was an enormous step.

Initially, Benjamin didn’t love staying in the dorm, but he grew to enjoy his independence. It was empowering for him to be in charge of his schedule, meals, and life. The accessible dorm and the ultimate willingness of the college administration gave him this opportunity. He had a great college experience participating in theatrical productions as both an actor and a dramaturg and was elected to homecoming court twice in four years.

Benjamin Shrader in his second round of being elected to the Homecoming chord.

Benjamin Shrader at a college graduation celebration.

Benjamin graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in dramatic writing and a minor in political science. When he presented his final script as a read-through performance for his senior project, every single one of his team of PCAs was in the audience because they were so invested in him.

His brother Mason was recently accepted to his second Master’s program in Anthropology, focusing on Bio Archaeology at Texas Tech. Claire is currently in her second semester of Occupational Therapy School at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Claire enjoyed a semester studying abroad in Argentina and founded sibling workshops for the brothers and sisters of differently-abled children worldwide. When she got an internship with an autism foundation, she discovered they had nothing for siblings, so she created a program. She went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a major in Spanish, a minor in English, and all her pre-occupational therapy courses.

When I reflect on the triplets’ journey, I would like to call the educators who didn’t want to invest in their potential. I want them to know that those little preschoolers they thought would place an undue burden on their teachers graduated with honors – lots and lots of honors.

I would like to tell them that when Benjamin rolled across the stage with his diploma, the faculty were the first to stand in what turned into a standing ovation throughout the graduation hall. Those faculty did not stand because Benjamin had been a burden on their teaching. They stood because he worked hard in their classes, he engaged on a day-to-day basis, he encouraged his fellow students, and set the bar high for their performance.

I would like to show them photos of Mason digging in the ancient acropolis in Majorca and receiving his hood for his thesis. I want them to read his undergraduate thesis on disability in the ancient world. I want them to know that his honors project won the Phi Beta Kappa award for best honors project at his school. They missed the chance to list this amazing Summa Cum Laude graduate and all of his accolades among their alumni.

The Shrader children -- triplets to the right with sister Cate on the left.

The Shrader children — triplets to the right with sister Cate on the left.

They also don’t get to brag about our soon-to-be Occupational Therapist Claire who is already changing the world for young people with CP and their families.

College looked different for each of my three. But they each found the school that matched their needs, the path that worked for their personal dreams, and made it not just a possibility but a reality.

College IS possible for young people with CP. They can make their mark and change the world. They can recolor the way society views students with CP. They can affect change. They CAN succeed.

Dr. Unni Narayanan, orthopedic surgeon

CP Stories: Hospital for Sick Children Surgeon Unni Narayanan

There is so much more society can do to allow people with disabilities to live fuller lives.
Unni Narayanan, MBBS, MSc, FRCS(C)
Unni Narayanan, MD

Unni Narayanan, MBBS, MSc, FRCS(C)

As one of the top pediatric orthopedic surgeons in his field, Unni Narayanan is passionate about improving mobility and reducing pain for the young patients in his care, many of whom are children with cerebral palsy.

But his dedication doesn’t end there. With a background in clinical epidemiology, the renowned doctor is also carrying out research to identify which treatments work best and understand and define the priorities of patients and their parents.

“I see, treat, and operate on children with CP every week, and a major focus of my work is dedicated to children with CP – it’s almost a subspecialty area in pediatric orthopedics,” says Narayanan. “CP children have a variety of musculoskeletal impairments which can impact how they move or walk. At the more severe end, you have children in wheelchairs and with musculoskeletal impairments that can cause them considerable pain. They can need all kinds of operations to optimize their efficiency. My clinical research is focused on understanding patient priorities and using that to improve outcomes.”

Narayanan, who completed his residency in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Minnesota and his fellowship in pediatric orthopaedics at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sickkids), is a senior scientist at the Sickkids Research Institute, and has spent two decades working in the field. He says his background in clinical epidemiology led him to focus on improving outcomes through clinical research and surgery.

His PSCORE [Priority-Based Scales For Children’s Outcomes – Research & Evaluation] Program at SickKids invites parents and patients to share what is important to them so clinicians can make judgments about whether treatments make a difference.

“We compile evidence to support whether interventions improve the lives of kids and carry out clinical trials to see which treatments work and which work better than others,” he explains. “A major focus is developing measures of those outcomes.”

Narayanan has been involved with the CP Research Network for many years and is a member of our executive board. He was on a sabbatical in the United Kingdom when he first heard about a large research project organized by the network and has contributed ever since.

“One of the network’s first major initiatives was to bring together clinicians from different subspecialty groups and charge them to work together to develop the core outcomes,” he recalls. “I led the orthopedic part of that effort and worked with my colleagues in other disciplines to bring elements together. It was the start of a clinical registry across North America. I continue to be involved in that effort.”

He cites CPRN.org as an essential resource for ensuring multiple institutions can collaborate to use electronic health records to collect data in a structured and standardized way.

“Integrating research into clinical care is the way to go,” he says. “You are collecting data not just in one but in many institutions, which allows you to collate a higher quality of data efficiently. That’s the power a network like CPRN can facilitate.”

As he contemplates what the future of CP treatment looks like, Narayanan says he would like to see advances in preventing the condition before it can occur and that research requires time and resources.

“CP, unfortunately, is permanent. There is no cure. The damage to the brain while developing is irreversible. The Holy grail would be to reverse that,” he says. “The biggest advances being made are the substantial efforts to prevent the damage in the first place. For example, looking at babies that are at high risk and understanding how the brain works. They are the biggest advances. As an orthopedic surgeon, that is far from what I do. I am downstream of the consequences. Advances in prevention require a more sophisticated understanding of the causes.

“Having time dedicated for research is critical. As a surgeon, clinical responsibilities creep into that time. We also rely on grant money. Those dollars are hard to come by. Nether-the-less, I am very fortunate to be where I am. I have an institution that embraces research and values it.”

There is one thing Narayanan believes we could all do right now to improve the quality of life for people with CP – focus on intersectionality in our daily lives.

“While we wait for medical advances, there is so much more society can do to allow people with disabilities to live fuller lives without needing to fix them,” he says. “It’s not so much treating the child but treating society – empowering people with disabilities to allow them to live fuller lives. By adapting the environment to help people with disabilities get around more easily, you create more comfortable, fuller lives for them. You don’t need sophisticated research to do that.”