As Kelly Meeks wheeled into Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Petersburg Therapy Center, it was hard to miss the smiling six-year-old. With a hot pink snow hat and images from Disney’s “Monsters Inc.” movie on her wheelchair wheels, Kelly navigated the crowded waiting room as she arrived for her weekly physical therapy appointment.
“I’ve seen that jacket,” Katy Smotrys, Kelly’s physical therapist, remarked of the gold bomber jacket Kelly was wearing.
Kelly’s blue eyes lit up at the recognition she’s getting used to receiving after wearing her jacket in a photograph for CHoR’s Play to Win campaign, which has been featured on magazines and billboards since last fall. Diagnosed with spina bifida when her mom, Crystal, was 15 weeks pregnant, Kelly is one of five CHoR patients featured in the campaign.
“Kelly doesn’t let anything get her down,” Crystal said. “She loves going to school and seeing her friends. If kids ask her why she’s in a wheelchair, she tells them, ‘I was born that way. I have spina bifida.’”
Following the prenatal diagnosis, Crystal and her husband, Charles, met with specialists at CHoR to prepare for Kelly’s July 2013 birth. Kelly had surgery to enclose her spinal cord when she was three days old and a shunt placed to relieve the build up of fluid on her brain caused by hydrocephalus when she was 10 days old. She spent her first month at CHoR, where Crystal stayed every night.
For the first few months of Kelly’s life, she traveled to CHoR once or twice a week for appointments with various specialists from the spina bifida clinic including neurosurgery, urology, orthopaedics and nutrition. She began weekly physical therapy when she was four months old at the Petersburg Therapy Center located less than 15 minutes from the family’s home.
Kelly’s early physical therapy goals focused on building core strength and learning to roll over. As she mastered that skill, Kelly moved on to crawling, standing and walking with a walker. She’s now working on walking with her bright purple crutches, or “walking sticks” as Kelly calls them.
Kelly said it’s “pretty cool” to be in CHoR’s ads and is excited to share her story. That story includes the six surgeries she’s had at the hospital and the progress she’s made because of physical therapy.
“I like riding the bike and getting on the trampoline and monkey bars,” Kelly shared of her favorite PT activities. “I can hold on pretty long until my hands get tired.”
When she’s not at school, Kelly enjoys riding a power wheels bike that moves when she stands (donated to CHoR by the Go Baby Go program) and playing with her 10-year-old brother, Charlie, five cats and three dogs, including a 100-pound English mastiff who loves to snuggle in Kelly’s bed.
“CHoR gave Kelly a chance,” Crystal said. “They enjoy seeing her and treat her like a friend and not just a patient.”
Even after an hour of demanding physical therapy exercises, Kelly smiled and said, “Katy makes PT fun so it doesn’t feel like so much work.”