"1, 2, go!"
Cameron Shull takes a few steps and stops.
"1, 2, go!"
Tribune Chronicle / Michelle Robbins
Cameron Shull works hard to walk at fast pace on the treadmill inside the Universal Exercise Unit on a recent Friday at Easter Seals in Youngstown. Helping him is physical therapy assistant Peggy Mulichak.
He takes a few more steps and stops. And falls.
But he gets back up again. And again.
The "1-2" that physical therapist assistant Peggy Mulichak is calling out is not a race or a game. It's the number of seconds he can keep his balance in between stopping and starting.
How to help
The following fundraisers are planned to help raise money for Cameron Shull's therapy.
- Spaghetti benefit dinner, 1 to 6 p.m. July 18, The Central Inn, 2139 Youngstown Hubbard Road S.E., Youngstown. All-you-can-eat dinner includes spaghetti and meatball, salad, dessert, Italian bread. There will also be a Chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle. Cost is $10 for adults, $7 for children and free for kids 3 and younger. Carrout will be available.
- The 12th annual Ali Baba Grotto Poker Run is set for Aug. 22, rain or shine. Signup is a 9 a.m., first bike out at 11 a.m., last bike in at 5 p.m. Cost is $15 per driver and $10 per passenger for the 90-100 mile run. Free breakfast will be served from 9 to 11 a.m. Cash prizes will be awarded, and DJ Crazy Dave will provide music. Cost for dinner only is $10. For more information, call Eric at 330-509-9014 or 330-501-2720.
"If he can stop for 30 seconds," she says, "he won't be falling down anymore."
Cameron, 7, of Howland, has cerebral palsy. On June 25, he finished an intensive therapy program at Easter Seals in Youngstown - three hours a day, five a days a week for three weeks. The session equals one year of therapy advancement.
He will be a second grader at Howland Springs. The next school year, he'll be at the intermediate school on North Road, a two-story building with steps.
"He really wants to walk without those crutches so he can be like the other kids," Mulichak said.
Cerebral palsy, according to the United Cerebral Palsy website, is a number of disorders of the developing brain affecting body movement, posture and muscle coordination.
"He's using more energy learning to walk than most kids do in two hours of baseball practice," Mulichak said.
Cameron's mother, Kimberly Shull, said her son was born six and a half weeks early. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, she said, which was taking oxygen from his brain.
She began to notice problems at about 9 months.
"He wasn't sitting up on his own or trying to crawl," she said.
Cameron is affected in his legs, hips and hands. In his case, the muscle tone is very tight.
Every night before bed, Cameron gets a warm bath to relax the muscles so he can wear straight-leg braces to sleep. In the morning, he must be stretched before putting different braces on his legs.
On the treadmill at Easter Seals, Cameron is suspended by a web of bungee cords in the Universal Exercise Unit. While he makes an effort to walk straight on the treadmill, the cords allow him to rest without fear of falling.
But then there's Mulichak, telling him to stand up straight, keep going, no whining.
"Yeah, I'm the evil one," she said. "I'd rather be mean now than have kids be mean at school from here on."
When Kimberly Shull goes to work on afternoon shift, her mother, Jeanette Shull, takes over with Cameron and his younger brother, Dominic, 3.
Jeanette Shull said that during the year, Cameron has two sessions of physical therapy and one session of occupational therapy each week.
She said as long as she's organized, the daily routine of baths and braces, in addition to homework, goes well. She said Cameron tries to write independently but isn't quite there yet, nor can he dress himself independently.
"You just get in the habit of doing it," she said. "You have to plan out your day ahead of time so you're not rushing."
Jeanette Shull also arranges fundraisers to help pay for the intense therapy sessions. Mulichak explained that insurance pays for "minimal therapy to be functional."
"If they do pay for an intensive, they don't get the rest of the year," Mulichak said.
Cameron also will receive botox treatment to help relax his muscle tone. Then, when he has a growth spurt, training the muscles starts all over again.
"He will be in therapy his whole life to be high-functioning," Mulichak said.
In the meantime, some of the tools to help Cameron walk normally are pretty fun. His favorites there are the treadmill, the pool and the bike.
In the pool, Cameron can keep his balance for as long as 10 seconds in the stop-start mode.
He also gets to use a Therasuit, which was originally designed by Russian scientists to minimize the physical effects of weightlessness for astronauts. The suit includes a cap, vest, shorts, kneepads and shoes with hooks and bungee-like cords that are adjusted to provide resistance and tactile input.
Mulichak said the exercise unit can give a new perspective for some kids. The bungee cords hooked between it and the child can allow for whole new experiences for a disabled child, like jumping.
At home, Cameron especially enjoys his "power cars." He also gets therapeutic riding at Mulichak's Forget Me Not Horse Farm in Girard.
Last summer's intense physical therapy session allowed Cameron to progress from a wheeled walker to walking crutches. At the end of this season's session, he was taking a few steps on his own without any aid.
"These kids are so resilient," Mulichak said. "I just constantly tell them, you can do it, you can do it."
She said Cameron will sometimes say an angry "I can do it" through clenched teeth - negativity is not allowed.
Cameron's grandmother said he took speech at the beginning but no longer needs it. He has a friend, Hunter, that he met in preschool and who also has cerebral palsy, and Jeanette Shull said they try to fit in playtime with him
She said Cameron's classmates work very well with him. He attends birthday parties and will soon have swimming lessons.
"He's come a long way," Jeanette Shull said. "Cameron works very hard to fit in with the other kids. When he gets around his family and cousins he really shows them what he's learned.