Brother's Love, Dedicated Rehabilitation Team Help Child Move Forward After Brain Injury
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 16, 2014) — Like many big brothers, 6-year-old Ashaar Shaheen knows how to trigger a response from his younger brother Kheejee.
When Kheejee pouts or cries in frustration, Ashaar's words of reassurance calm him down. When Ashaar gives Kheejee pats on the head and kisses on the face, the 4-year-old's face breaks into a smile.
More than his brother's keeper, Ashaar is his brother's champion and partner in recovering from a severe brain injury. In April, when Kheejee took his first steps at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Ashaar was holding his hand, urging him forward with encouragement. It was an emotional moment that Dr. Erika Erlandson and members of the Kheejee's rehabilitation team will never forget.
"We all had tears in our eyes and were in awe," Erlandson said. "There was excitement oozing out of the whole team."
Erlandson, assistant professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said in Kheejee's case, involving Ashaar was one factor that contributed to his quick and unexpected progress after suffering from an anoxic brain injury. After three months of inpatient treatment, Kheejee has exceeded the recovery expectations of Erlandson, who leads interdisciplinary rehabilitation team. She attributes the success of Kheejee's case to a devoted team and a deeply involved family.
"What's made this case so remarkable is that he broke all the rules," Erlandson said of Kheejee. "He didn't follow the natural progression of his diagnosis or what the medical literature suggested for recovery. He made a significant amount of progress in a short amount of time."
In January, Kheejee underwent a surgery to correct holes in his heart. A post-surgical complication stopped blood flow to his brain for several minutes, resulting in an anoxic brain injury. Kheejee came to Cardinal Hill for inpatient care unable to make purposeful movements, which included walking, talking, moving his head or following motion with his eyes.
"His recovery was very guarded when he first came in," Erlandson said. "Initially, I told his parents I thought a good goal for him would be to have some head control and for him to be able to track them around the room."
An interdisciplinary team worked with Kheejee for three hours daily for three months. Erlandson said because a child's brain is still in its developmental stages, its neuroplasticity allows it the chance to repair from injury. Kheejee engaged in exercises designed to stimulate both sides of his brain and help him control his movements. Ashaar, who was attending school during the daytime in the winter, attended therapy sessions in the evenings or on snow days. Their mother Atiya Shaheen said before Kheejee was interacting with most adults, he was responding to his brother.
"If he got a little bit agitated, my older son told him not to cry and to be brave - 'I am here for you,'" Atiya Shaheen said. "Even when he was not communicating with me, or not in a condition that he could understand me, he started with his brother. Being a mom, I am confident that my older son has really helped him."
At an early July check-up with Erlandson, Kheejee was laughing at his doctor's funny faces, calling for his mom, scanning the room with his eyes and kicking his feet out of his wheelchair footrests. He is now able to walk with the aid of a walker, hold up the trunk of his body, say single words and feed himself baby food. His mother said he expresses excitement when he smells her cooking food and cries "no" in opposition when it's bath time.
Erlandson, whose passion for rehabilitation medicine stems from having a family member with a disability, said Kheejee has given her hope for all her patients. She considers his case a powerful example of what can happen when a family believes in a child.
"This is a reminder that recovery is possible - and that his support system at home is very remarkable."
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