After years of hopping from one healthcare facility to the next desperately seeking treatment for his son’s muscular atrophy, Hisham Shaaban was stunned to see him perform tasks for himself for the first time.
“My son Ahmad has been receiving treatment for four years but it did not lead to significant improvement,” the 45-year-old Yemeni said.
Ahmad, 14, is wheelchair-bound and struggles to perform simple tasks such as using a spoon to feed himself.
His condition improved on the third day of treatment at the Cambridge Medical Rehabilitation Clinic using the Kozyavkin Method - an intensive neuro-rehabilitation programme that has been used to treat 70,000 cases since it has been founded by a Ukrainian professor 30 years ago.
Ahmad was one of the first eight children to undergo the intensive two-week treatment at CMRC’s Al Ain campus in November. The hospital is the first and only in the UAE to offer the programme.
The method focuses on a subset of children and young adults with spasticity complex issues – a condition whereby certain muscles are continuously contracted - related to neurological disorders, said Dr Howard Podolsky, chief executive of CMRC.
These include children who have difficulty walking, standing, sitting straight, and suffer from bad posture and head control.
“Even contractions in hands and wrists and elbows can be very problematic for a child to function at home or at school,” Dr Podolsky said.
The stiffness caused by the contracted muscles is often treated with muscle relaxants and even Botox.
The programme combines spinal manipulation, intensive physiotherapy, occupational and massage therapy to break down the stiffness in the muscles and allow for more functional movement.
“It doesn’t mean that every child who cannot walk will be able to walk, but surely they [Kozyavkin therapists] do an incredible job in adding an increasing functionality for the children and young adults that they treat,” Dr Podolsky said.
The programme aims to help the children become as independent as possible with simple daily activities like changing their own clothes and eating on their own.
“For 14 years Ahmad was never able to go to the bathroom alone, now he can do that, and he is holding the spoon and eating with us, his movements have become more interactive,” said Mr Shaaban.
He attended the sessions with his son for two weeks, and saw the progression for himself.
“They evaluated his case before he started the treatment and now there is a big difference, he developed from 58 per to 74 per cent,” the father said.
The remaining 20 per cent, he said, could have been overcome if the treatment lasted longer but due to insurance complications he was unable to extend the length of the treatment and is cannot afford to pay for it himself.
“Today is the last day, I know after one week he will be back to what he used to be,” Mr Shaaban said at the end of last year.
“I tried to follow the procedure to continue with him at home, but they have their own devices and techniques,” he said.
Mohammed Al Mahri, a two-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy, leant against his therapist’s lap as she helped him throw a ball gently and guided him to pick it up again.
“Where is the ball, yes it is over there, pick it up,” said his mother Amna Al Mahri, watching keenly.
After a few attempts, young Mohammed succeeded.
“When he came the first time he had no movement, he was lying down on the floor, no engagement at all,” said Mohammed Taleb, a senior occupational therapist at CMRC.
“Now this is a huge improvement; he is interacting and aware of his surroundings, tracks the ball visually, he did not have any of that at first.
“I teach him also all the things to do with daily activities like initiation of activity to daily living: after grabbing and throwing then you can eat put on your clothes and in the future you can write because you are grabbing and releasing,” he said.
Ms Al Mahri said she has seen significant improvement in her son since he began receiving physiotherapy and speech therapy. Mohammed will undergo the Kozyavkin programme in Al Ain this month.
“He did not raise his head before, now he does. His palm was always closed, now he opens it, and his awareness improved a lot, before he seemed as if he were sleeping all the time,” she said.
Bassam Sayad, chief of operations at CMRC, said the Kozyavkin method begins with an extensive assessment of the child’s physical disability.
“Then the programme is developed specifically for each child within 15 days.
“Every day a patient has a series of rehab sessions, which include how to walk, balance or stand, how to put your clothes on,” Mr Sayad said.
It involves a variety of rehabilitation treatments including spine correction and physical therapy where specific joints and muscles are trained.
“It is a process to help people use muscles properly including a medical massage, and a balancing session for how to stand, how to move and so on.”
The programme treats a set of neurological disorders that children have due to lack of oxygen to the brain around the time of birth, said Dr Podolsky.
“What we are doing in this programme is retraining the body muscles, joints and nerves to do the kinds of manoeuvres, ambulation and ability to flex and extend in ways that they have never done before, or are unable to do properly.
“To make them as less dysfunctional as they can be."