Monica Weigle

One spring day in a home in the center of Ukraine a baby girl was born. As fragile as a tiny bird, but with a will as strong as steel, Irina (Juliana) entered this world early, at 27 weeks, weighing 950 grams (2lbs. 1oz.). After living in a loving, caring orphanage from the age of 3 months to 17 months, but receiving no additional care aside from basic needs being met, Juliana became an American citizen on October 7, 2004, the day her new life began. At the time she was not able to sit or crawl.

In November 2004 she was diagnosed as having mild cerebral palsy, resulting from premature birth. The following February she was accepted in the 'Lil Angels room at Helping Hand Children's Center. When tested at the age of 2 years old, she had the age equivalence of an 8 month old, but she had accomplished the ability to sit and scoot. Although every single therapist, teacher, and staff member who has worked with Juliana at Helping Hand has been excellent, her first physical therapist, Inna Swann, who is originally from Russia, was an absolutely perfect match for Juliana.

Under Ms. Inna's care, Juliana began increasing her lower body strength, which had been neglected for so long. WIth the aid of ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs) and a reverse walker, she became mobile. Ms. Inna moved to another state before she was able to witness Juliana taking her first steps unassisted at the age of 6. However, with the guidance of the knowledgeable ever-patient Ms. Sarah Sponenburg, Juliana is continuing to improve her balance and strength.

Considering the limitations resulting from premature birth, such as the inability to move her tongue laterally, coupled with the fact that Juliana had never heard the English language spoken until she was almost a year and a half, the progress she made as a result of speech therapy with Ms. Angie Shelton is amazing. She tested out of speech therapy before reaching kindergarten and now one would never guess English was not her first language.

Fine motor skills, such as using eating utensils and stringing beads, took a significant amount of effort but with Ms. Tara Everitt's positive encouragement, they became goals Juliana mastered. OT Margaret Fry took these skills to the next level, enabling Juliana to perform activities such as using scissors and dressing herself.

Holding and writing with a pencil was initially such a challenge for Juliana that it was physically painful. Consideration was given to alternatives such as using a special keyboard. However, through perseverance and under the guidance of OT Leslie Richardson, Juliana is now able to write legibly and without complaint.

During her annual check-up at the age of 4, after discussing the amount of therapy she was receiving at the time and the progress she had made, her pediatrician said that for patients with CP, other parts of the brain can take over the function of the damaged portion, but that can only happen with therapy. The reason she is doing so well is a direct result of the intense therapy she has received at Helping Hand.

While PT, OT and ST are significant, the teachers Juliana has had in each Helping Hand class have been caring, creative and supportive, and each played a key role in enabling her to now attend school in a regular classroom. The baby girl whose odds were stacked against her has blossomed into a beautiful, sweet child who rides horses, plays on a baseball team, performs with a dance team, practices ATA martial arts and is about to enter second grade. These activities are possible thanks to Helping Hand.