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How our grandson battled cancer and paralysis at age 5

“We have our Gabe back” – Debbie and William Belcher

Gabe BelcherThe Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation program at Milestones is celebrating 25 years of service. Bill and Debbie Belcher share how their grandson Gabe’s life changed after a leukemia diagnosis.

Our grandson Gabe was just five years old when two life-altering events suddenly crashed his kindergartner world. First was the diagnosis no family can ever be prepared for when we were told Gabe had acute lymphocytic leukemia (A.L.L.) Then, shortly after starting treatment, complications led to another unimaginable outcome- he became paralyzed.

He was transferred to the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Hospital where he stayed for 108 days. Thanks to the very superb staff at Mott, we still have Gabe with us but it’s been a long and difficult journey.

When Gabe started at U-M’s Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation program at Milestones in March of 2012, he could not move his legs at all, his core was extremely weak, and his hands were in braces to keep them from contracting.

But our doctor, Dr. Liza Green gave us hope, telling us that Gabe would walk again. She was right. Today, Gabe, can walk short distances with a walker and braces. He’s also going to school full-time, reading and writing in the second grade, and still progressing through sessions at Milestones.

A typical session for Gabe now is working with occupational therapist Anne Chadwick on visual/spatial exercises, handwriting and developing motor skills. Anne always finds creative and fun things to do, such as leather tooling, painting, and games to help Gabe’s hands. Next Gabe works with physical therapist Kendra Vanwasshenova. She stretches his legs and teaches him how to balance and walk using games that keep Gabe engaged and progressing. She uses a variety of therapies: horseback riding, swimming, and the Lokomat, a state of the art treadmill with a harness.

Gabe’s time at Milestones has helped him in so many ways and our family is very appreciative of the love and concern shown to him. He has learned that although something may be hard, you can’t quit. He has learned kindness and empathy for others. This time has changed our family in that we have our Gabe back. We are grateful for every achievement he makes. We have learned how to motivate Gabe and have met wonderful people and felt understood and supported.

The staff at Milestones: Diane, Kendra, Anne, Eileen, Marie, Elaine, Becky, Shannon, and all the rest have made this journey easier and really gone the extra mile. For example, when Gabe showed an interest in policemen, Diane arranged to have officers from the Ann Arbor police force come to show Gabe their police car. We’ve also received cards from staff members and had them visit Gabe when has been in the hospital.

Milestones is by far the best Pediatric NeuroRehab facility we have ever seen. They truly care about the children and their families.

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about the Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation program and services at Milestones.
  • Visit the Physical Medicine and Rehabiliation website for more information about U-M rehab services.
  • Read more about both the Pediatric Neurorehab and MedRehab programs and contributions over this quarter century.
  • Read other Milestones anniversary blog posts: David’s story: Relearning the alphabet, how to walk and how to play after ischemic stroke at age 6

    Best Children's Hospitals - C.S. Mott Children's HospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.