Twice a week for six years, Barbara Turner made the 25-mile trek from Bluffton to Beaufort to take her daughter Julia to therapy at HealthLink for Children, Beaufort Memorial Hospital's pediatric rehabilitation center.
Today, she drives five minutes from her home to HealthLink's new Bluffton facility.
"It has made such a huge difference in our lives," Turner said. "It was difficult picking her up after school every Tuesday and Thursday and driving 45-minutes to Beaufort. We wouldn't get home until 7 p.m. That's a long day for a little girl."
Now 7, Julia is an active, social kindergartner at Okatie Elementary School. Despite her disabilities, she is in a mainstream classroom, continuing to make progress. Her mother credits HealthLink for Children with her daughter's success.
An outpatient center specializing in rehabilitation, HealthLink opened in 2000 on Lady's Island and moved to the Beaufort Memorial campus eight years later, offering treatments and therapies for problems with strength and joint motion, impaired mobility, balance and coordination, speech and communication problems, thinking and sensory processing difficulties, limitations in self care and feeding, and swallowing disorders.
Like many HealthLink patients, Julia suffers from multiple disabilities requiring a broad spectrum of those services.
Born with hip dysplasia, Julia spent the first five months of her life in a harness to try to correct the problem. When that didn't work, she underwent surgery, leaving her in a body cast for two months, followed by three months in a brace.
"She came out of it as floppy as a rag doll," Turner said. "We thought it was because her body had been confined for so long."
When she didn't start walking by 18 months of age, her doctor recommended physical therapy. An MRI later revealed she had suffered a brain injury as an infant. Periventricular leukomalacia results in neurological problems, especially those that involve movements, such as sitting, crawling and walking.
"Speech didn't come either," Turner said. "She wasn't talking or even making sounds."
At age 3, Julia was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a condition that makes it difficult for her to move her tongue, lips, jaw and palate to produce words.
LEARNING TO SPEAK
Along with the physical therapy, Julia was started on speech and occupational therapy. Initially she was taught American Sign Language, but as her motor skills improved, she was able to advance to Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
The speech therapist at HealthLink gave Turner picture symbols Julia could use to communicate her needs. Turner glued them on magnets and put the food symbols on the front of her refrigerator.
"When she was hungry, she'd bring me a picture of milk or an apple," Turner said. "Clothing and toiletry magnets were on the side of the refrigerator. We had another magnetic board for her play activities."
Once she learned how to use the pictures, she was given a voice output device that used the same symbols with a recorded voice saying the word.
"Having the device made communication more natural and spontaneous," Turner said. "Before long, she was making her own sounds to go with the pictures."
The speech therapy she received at HealthLink included oral motor intervention and cognitive rehabilitation. She also underwent occupational and physical therapies.
Two years ago, Turner took her daughter to Charleston to be examined by a neurologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
"He looked at a picture of her brain and told me she was much more self-sufficient and capable than she should be given her condition," Turner said. "I truly believe Julia has done so well because she has had a great group of people who have taken an interest in treating the whole child."
Julia received treatment at Healthlink's BMH location in the Beaufort Medical Plaza adjacent to the hospital. Recently, HealthLink began offering its services at the rehabilitation center in Bluffton Medical Services, Beaufort Memorial's outpatient facility in Westbury Park.
"I've seen such a vast improvement in Julia," Turner said. "She sings, she dances, she's happy."