CP stories offers presentations, webinars, and guest speakers, discussing cerebral palsy research, the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN) updates, life with cerebral palsy, caring for a loved one with cerebral palsy and access for you to join the interactive cerebral palsy community, with families, caregivers, adults, and medical professionals all in one place!

A smiling family of seven wearing formal attire stand in front of a fireplace mantel with their arms around each other.

CP Stories: The “Can Do” John Borland

“You can’t expect a group of people to respect you more than you respect yourself.” — John Borland

Retired health inspector John Borland, 68, has fought stigma and the feeling of being underestimated throughout his life with cerebral palsy. Today he shares how a relentless ‘can-do’ approach to living has helped him meet his full potential. 

John Borland with his family
John Borland with his family

John Borland can clearly remember the first time he realized he was ‘different’ from others. 

“I was about two years old,” he says. “The short story is that I was lying on our living room floor playing with my father. I watched him get up from his stomach on to his knees and then on to his feet. I tried several times to do what my father did – to be like him – but each time I fell over. After several tries, I knew I was not the same as others.”  

Around the same time, John’s parents, Samuel and Patricia, sought a diagnosis, learning that their son likely had spastic cerebral palsy and could be ‘slow to develop’.  Under the care of orthopedic surgeons at Hamot Hospital in Erie, PA, he was able to learn to walk. During a time where there was often the assumption that children with cerebral palsy were ‘mentally retarded’ John was also required to take a cognitive test to attend a mainstream elementary school.  

“It was ingrained in me that I was not the same, not as good as able-bodied people,” he says. “I was largely ignored by the other kids in school, and sometimes I was bullied. I had to fight to break that mold to attend college.” 

 John graduated from Edinboro State College (currently Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology.   

After initially attending graduate school, John was forced to change routes and began to hunt for permanent employment. He found some temporary work but faced many rejections – some he believes stemmed from fear of his disability.   

It hit him hard but he found solace traveling to Alaska with his friend Skip and his family. During the four-month trip, his friends, as they always did, encouraged him to do everything they did – canoeing, hiking, and cross-country skiing.   

“They never looked at me as disabled,” he says. “It made me realize I didn’t want to be marked as exceptional for being disabled. I want to be marked as exceptional. You can’t expect a group of people to respect you more than you respect yourself.”  

Back home in Clarendon, John met with case worker, determined to fight in his corner and who, after five years, found a position with Pennsylvania State government. Throughout his 33-year career, John remained passionate about his work, among other duties, initially conducting health inspections at restaurants and other public facilities. Later as a program specialist, John worked to implement and facilitate drinking water staff training as well as contributing to state and federal  efforts concerning drinking water regulation and facility improvement. John also played a major part in developing Pennsylvania’s storage tank and biosolids programs and with facilitating municipal management of home wastewater systems.  

In his spare time, John embraced his wanderlust, travelling to a total of 43 states throughout the U.S. where he enjoyed adventures hiking, camping, canoeing, skiing or simply taking in the peace of nature. Sadly, he still suffered moments of doubt, even contemplating suicide, and feared he would not find companionship.  

“As a young adult, I couldn’t find acceptance or someone to want to be with me romantically,” he shares. “This grew to be a major source of darkness and trouble for me.” 

With difficulty, John pushed through his depression and worked hard to gain a promotion, relocating to Harrisburg, PA. It was there he was matched with his future wife, Judy, by a dating agency. 

“I forced myself to call her and begin a conversation,” he recalls. “I had to tell her that I was disabled and I figured when I did the call would be over. To my great surprise (as this had never ever happened to me before), she said, “I don’t care. When do you want to get together?” 

The couple became engaged and married in 1990. They have two children, Judy’s son Troy from her previous marriage and Joshua, who was born in 1992. Since then, the family has been blessed with two grandchildren.  

As a passionate contributor to the CP Research Network community, John now wishes to help young people with cerebral palsy to have the confidence to achieve their hopes and dreams. 

He adds: “We need to open the eyes of a great many people so they can see who a disabled individual can truly be and what they can achieve.” 

A preview image of Dr. Michael Kruer linking to blog post ‘Tune in to our next webinar — Genetic causes of cerebral palsy’

CP Stories: Why Genetics Matter

“We believe this study will move the needle and help patients and their families.” – Dr. Michael Kruer

As he embarks on a the Cerebral Palsy Research Network’s first publicly funded study into genetic causes of cerebral palsy, Dr. Michael Kruer, Director of the Pediatric Movement Disorders Program at Phoenix Hospital, hopes the landmark research will help transform patient care. 

Working as a dedicated pediatric neurologist, Dr. Michael Kruer is passionate about the young patients in his care and how to improve their treatments and therapies. 

Now, as he launches a three-year study examining how genetic factors connect with a CP diagnosis, he is hopeful the research could lead to better outcomes for many in the CP community. 

“We believe this study will not only move the needle for research but has the potential to impact individual patients and their families,” he tells the CP Research Network.  

Kruer is no stranger to people’s challenges with CP, having dedicated the last ten years to the study of genomics as it relates specifically to the condition. He received the CP Research Network’s first publicly funded (NIH) grant to launch his “Genetics Causes of Cerebral Palsy” study after approaching the network to collaborate on research.  

Five hundred participants and their biological parents will participate at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, AZ, Al DuPont Children’s Hospital, DE, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, OH, Seattle Children’s Hospital, WA, and Children’s Hospital Colorado, CO. 

“The beauty of working with the CP Research Network is it collects information that doctors and therapists enter as they are caring for people with CP at the participating sites,” adds Kruer. “It’s a wealth of information that we’re then able to leverage to try to take the genetics and make sense of it in a way that can impact diagnoses and treatments.”   

The study, which kicked off this month, in unison with CP Awareness Month, will compare the genome (the person’s genetic material and instructions) of people with CP with those of their parents, known as whole-exome sequencing analysis. If a participant with CP has children of their own, then researchers will track changes in the genome of multiple generations of the same family, which will be a first for clinicians. 

Until recently, CP was not known to have a genetic connection. Yet, increasingly research indicates that as many as one in four individuals may have a genetic cause for their CP.  

“Dogma in medicine is hard to change,” admits Kruer. Yet he remains optimistic that perceptions can gradually shift with sound research. Indeed, initial research linking genes to CP is already opening doors to new avenues of treatment for patients. 

“The most cutting-edge genetic technologies are exciting, but it’s only one side of the coin,” he continues. “If you don’t know how that technology relates to a real person and his or her symptoms, what they’ve gone through etc., then I think it’s an incomplete picture.” 

Dr. Kruer will share why genetics matter and detail the specifics of his latest study during a MyCP webinar this evening (Wednesday, March 10) at 8 pm EST. You can register here

If your family is interested in taking part, look for an invitation from your CP clinic at one of the participating sites. We will send you an invitation to our online consent application. Once the family gives their consent, they will receive saliva-based DNA sample collection kits. 

A black and white photo of a young boy with curly hair, wearing a cap, glasses, sweater, and shorts, giving the thumbs up sign.

CP Stories: “I want Hudson to pursue all his dreams.”

Hudson Birkin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of four. Today his mother, Suzanne, 51, talks about her fight to advocate for the care her son needs…  

Eight year-old Hudson
Eight year-old Hudson

When it comes to raising her eight-year-old son with cerebral palsy, devoted mother, Suzanne Birkin finds it best to take one day at a time.  

“It’s hard to think way into the future for Hudson,” says Suzanne, who lives with her son and husband, Carl, in Coventry in the United Kingdom. “We primarily concentrate on challenges as they arise and make sure he is happy and feels like a valued member of his community.” 

The little boy who loves to draw and build blocks was first diagnosed in 2016 when he was four-years-old after his parents noticed he was not reaching developmental milestones as a baby and toddler.  

In addition to CP Hudson also has a speech disorder. Since his diagnosis, he has undergone physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and neurology consultations, all through the UK’s free National Health Service (NHS). This care has helped Hudson progress to taking independent steps while wearing splints and using a walker, but his family is unsure whether the NHS can adequately support his long-term needs.  

“We are lucky to get our medical needs covered by the NHS, but the help is limited,” explains Suzanne. “When Hudson got to the point where he was walking independently, his therapy was scaled back to once a year to review his progress. It’s frustrating. It feels like the NHS gets you to the bare minimum, and then they let you go. Hudson can only walk about 20 steps on his own! I’ve learned that you have to shout and complain to get more from the NHS. It works sometimes, but other times they just can’t provide.” 

Determined for their son to reach his full potential, Suzanne and Carl pay for their son to have private physical therapy consultations twice a year and private music therapy classes that help with his speech.  

Five days a week, Hudson attends Sherbourne Fields School, an all-age school for students with a broad spectrum of needs, including physical disabilities, medical conditions, and learning needs. The school facilities include a swimming pool, multi-sensory room, soft play area, and a strength and conditioning gym. 

“It is a fantastic school,” Suzanne says. “Hudson loves the routine and enjoys the social aspect of being with his classmates.” 

Suzanne, a dance teacher with three grown-up step-children in addition to Hudson, relies on family and friends and self-care to get through the challenging moments. 

“Yoga and concentrating on my breathing help me,” she says. “Escaping in my work helps too, and I have very supportive friends. I have a group of mommy friends whose children all have special needs. They just get it and understand the ups and downs.” 

As she supports Hudson through his CP challenges, Suzanne is thankful to be part of the CP Research Network and the opportunity to participate in research to help advance knowledge of Hudson’s condition. The family has already contributed to a speech research project via the network. 

“It was gratifying to see multiple-choice questions that reflected Hudson’s development,” she says of the experience. “Usually, I have to tick “other” because an appropriate answer isn’t on there. I felt validated and listened to. I’m happy to participate in anything that can bring more awareness to CP.” 

Right now, she is enjoying seeing Hudson grow and find his way. 

“Hudson is a quiet boy when you first meet him but opens up the more comfortable he gets,” she smiles. “He is interested in geography and loves to go on Google maps and look up his neighborhood and where his grandparents live in the U.S. He can navigate very well from Philadelphia, to where we live, to where his aunt lives in the south of England. He’s good at getting around! He is still working out what he wants to be when he grows up and sometimes says he wants to be a dance teacher like his mom or help people like his dad, who cares for adults with learning disabilities. I hope he has every opportunity to pursue any dream he wants to.” 

A preview image of Dr. Garey Noritz leading to blog post ‘CP Stories: Dr. Garey Noritz’

CP Stories: Dr. Garey Noritz

As the new chair of the AAP’s Council on Children with Disabilities, Dr. Garey Noritz has the cerebral palsy community in mind.

CP Stories

Dr, Garey Noritz, Developmental Pediatrician, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

A long-time supporter of the CP Research Network, Dr. Garey Noritz understands how vital the American Academy of Pediatrics’ commitment to helping children with disabilities is for the cerebral palsy community.

Now, in his new role as chair of the organization’s Council on Children with Disabilities (COCWD), he is determined to ensure that all children with disabilities – and their broader community needs – are kept at the forefront of the AAP’s work.  

He tells the CP Research Network: “The health of children can only be improved by improving conditions for children and families in all areas of their lives as we advocate for safe environments, effective schools, and most of all, just policies at the federal and state level.”

As an internist and pediatrician specializing in neurodevelopmental disabilities at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Noritz is a member of the CP Research Network’s Executive Committee and understands how COCWD provides vital support to our community.

The council is presently revising a clinical report, “Providing a medical home for children and youth with cerebral palsy,” from 2011 to ensure that it contains the most up-to-date information and guidance for pediatricians treating children with cerebral palsy. 

For many years, COCWD has played an essential role in improving care for those with cerebral palsy. This includes providing clinical reports to pediatricians on all aspects of the care of children with disabilities, from screening and diagnosing young children to transition to the adult health system.   

“There is a lot of political clout with the AAP, so it is important to make sure children with cerebral palsy are represented and advocated for,” he adds.

Excited to begin his new role, Noritz credits the council as one of the most active and influential AAP groups and is excited to continue its legacy.

As we come to the end of a year that brought countless health and racial inequities to the surface, Noritz is determined to ensure that no child is left behind and lists inclusivity, research, advocacy, and education as priorities. 

Encouragingly, as he begins this important work, he expresses a wish to continue to have open communication with CPRN members to understand the community’s continuing needs.  

Congratulations, Dr. Noritz. We’re excited to work with you in your expanded capacities!