Liam Laughlin

Reaching his fullest potential

December 18, 2018

This September, 5-year-old Liam Laughlin was one of the first to see Sanford Hillsboro’s new pediatric therapy area.

“His eyes were like saucers,” said Liam’s physical therapist, Kristen Schulz. “Now he calls it ‘his room.’ He’ll say, ‘Let’s go to my room and play.’”

The newly renovated space, filled with state-of-the-art equipment, was brought to life through the passion of therapists like Schulz and the generosity of donors to the Sanford Health Foundation Hillsboro.

“We saw a need in the community, and we thought pediatric therapy would be an awesome opportunity and an area to grow in,” Schulz said.


Meet Liam

When Liam was a baby, he started missing milestones and falling behind on the growth chart. His parents, David and Paige, noticed their first-born stopped rolling over and had no interest in sitting up.

“I knew right then he was different from my friends’ babies,” Paige said.

Liam developed a brain malfunction in utero and has challenges that resemble cerebral palsy, a disorder of movement, muscletone and posture. At 7 months old, he started physical therapy at Sanford Health in Fargo. Once a week, Paige and Liam traveled from their home in Mayville to Fargo. The stay-at-home mom didn’t mind because she wanted Liam to have the best care.

A few months later, Paige contacted Sanford Hillsboro when she and Liam’s therapists realized he needed more frequent sessions. She thought it would be easier to add a session in Hillsboro instead of traveling to Fargo twice a week.

“I called blindly to their therapy department and said that I had a son,” Paige said. “I explained he’s a pediatric patient, said what he needed and asked if we could do therapy there. They were a little dumbfounded.”

Schulz told Paige they were limited on equipment and space for kids at the time. But Schulz and her team opened their hearts and improvised with Liam for nearly five years.

“We weren’t going to have quite as much capability as he did in Fargo with equipment, but we tried to make it work as best we could,” Schulz said.

Paige knew it wasn’t an ideal set up. Liam practiced mobility and balance in small treatment rooms and other patients and extra noise in the large gym often distracted him. Yet the Laughlins valued Liam’s rapport with Schulz and the Sanford Hillsboro team always went above and beyond for the family.

“There was a period where we had considered going to Fargo more often, just knowing that they had the equipment necessary,” Paige said. “But we were always so happy with our therapist. Kristen has been with him all his life, and in a way, that’s more important than what equipment is available.”


What’s new

More patients in the surrounding area have asked about physical therapy in the last several years, Schulz said, and their interest prompted the expansion.

“People are realizing the importance of physical therapy,” she said. “With that demand, there came a need for more space and then we wanted to include pediatrics as well.”

Today, the department has twice the space. The new pediatric gymnasium is designed for kids like Liam and features three different types of swings and many therapy toys like beanbags, cones, hoops, stairs, incline mats and bolsters.

“The equipment is not only kid-sized but kid-friendly,” Schulz said. “For instance, the pediatric stairs are made out of foam. So if they fall or miss steps, they’re not going to get hurt.

“We’d probably see kids with a developmental delay or a neurological disorder for at least a year or two in therapy, so having a variety of different colors, shapes or textures is really important to get them to continue to participate in therapy,” she added.

Plus, the department added two treatment rooms for adults and one for kids for initial evaluations and private follow-up visits. There are also two new treatment tables so patients can rest comfortably during therapy sessions, a biofeedback machine to improve pelvic health, and a speech therapist to help preserve and improve communication and swallowing skills for patients of all ages.


Liam’s progress

So far, everything about the new pediatric therapy area has been positive for Liam.

“He’s more excited and engaged in the treatment session,” Schulz said. “Each week he gets to play with a different toy and incorporate it in purposeful play.”

Paige knows how energetic and smart Liam is, so the extra space and variety of toys are perfect for him. She’s proud to see Liam more connected and focused.

“We’re not trying to necessarily catch him up to his peers, as nice as that would be,” she said. “But we always want to try to close the gap and get him to his greatest potential.”

Paige is especially grateful to have this specialized therapy close to home.

“Fortunately, we’re doing all that we can right at Sanford — right in our backyard — and we can sleep better at night knowing that,” she said.

Gifts to the Sanford Health Foundation Hillsboro made the Sanford Hillsboro physical therapy expansion and new equipment possible so kids, like Liam, and patients of all ages can reach their fullest potential.

Please help Sanford Hillsboro continue to care for our neighbors and loved ones. This holiday season, give the gifts of health and wellness to more families at sanfordhealthfoundation.org/givetohillsboro.