Michigan facility to treat autism
BRIGHTON, Mich. (AP) — Hadley Balle looked relaxed for a little boy in a clear cylinder.
The 5-year-old’s head rested on a pillow while he gazed up at a cartoon playing on the TV screen above the hyperbaric oxygen chamber in which he was enclosed at the Oxford Recovery Center in Brighton.
He is used to this. He has received hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other treatments to help with developmental delays caused by Down syndrome for four years. He was diagnosed with autism more recently.
“When we first came here, he was 14-months-old and not sitting up,” his mother, Megan Balle, told Livingston Daily . “After 40 treatments within three weeks, he went home and was crawling. It’s pretty awesome.”
Since then, Megan has driven her son three hours from their home in Sturgis twice a year for month-long visits to the Oxford Recovery Center for treatment, including daily “dives” into the hyperbaric chamber which delivers 100 percent pressurized oxygen. The current visit coincides with the center’s move from South Lyon to Brighton, and its grand opening.
Dr. Tami Peterson proudly gives a tour of the new 24,000-square-foot facility. The first stop is the room with five hyperbaric oxygen chambers, the basis on which Peterson founded the center a decade ago after the treatments helped her daughter, JeAnnah Powell.
In 2006, JeAnnah, who was then 9, contracted viral encephalitis, leaving her legally blind, unable to walk or talk, plagued with seizures and cognitively impaired for months, Peterson said. Then Peterson found a doctor at Detroit Receiving Hospital willing to try the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is typically used in the U.S. for accelerated wound healing.
Other doctors had told her the treatment would not work. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration last year took a stronger stance, and warned or took action “against a number of companies that have made improper claims about their products’ intended use as a treatment or cure for autism or autism-related symptoms.”
However, Peterson said after a week of the hyperbaric therapy, her daughter regained her sight, and three months later, she was ballet dancing and back to normal. JeAnnah is now 22 and a culinary arts school graduate. She has no lingering effects from the encephalitis, which Peterson said she attributes to the hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“I never wanted a mom to go through that, watching your child with no hope for their recovery,” Peterson said. “Now, I get to give other parents their children’s lives back.”
Oxford Recovery Center works to do that through a “synergistic” approach Peterson said, using multiple therapies to treat children and adults with a wide variety of medical conditions ranging from autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorder to macular degeneration, traumatic brain injury and depression.
Diane Kim, a Milford mom, said her son Mitchell, now 10, has “made a full recovery” from autism spectrum disorder after receiving the hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other treatments at the Oxford Recovery Center. He received treatments for two years, starting when he was 3.
“It was harder then, once a kid was diagnosed. No one can help,” Kim said. “Schools are not allowed to give advice. It’s overwhelming. Your life changes overnight and you don’t know where to turn. ... There is no hope, you don’t know what causes it or how to fix it. They tell you there is brain damage, do some ABA (applied behavior analysis) and good luck. They can’t speak more than 50 words, he did the ‘Rain Man’ thing where he did the alphabet over and over.”
Tammy Morris, chief program officer for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, said more than 500 children in Livingston are identified as eligible for autism special education services, but that means the number is actually much higher due to children who are homeschooled, in private schools, in preschool or children undiagnosed with mild impairment.
While the statewide average of special education students with autism is 9.9 percent, all five of Livingston County’s public school districts have higher percentages, ranging from a low of 10.7 percent in Brighton to a high of 16.7 percent in Howell. Other districts include Pinckney (12.2 percent), Fowerville (12.4 percent) and Hartland (14.1 percent).
The number of children with autism spectrum disorder has doubled in the last 40 years, she said, and just five years ago, there was only one provider of applied behavior analysis in Livingston. Now the alliance, which offers a navigator resource for families seeking autism services, is aware of 14 in the county.
“We are always happy when a new resource pops up,” Morris said. “Livingston was always one of the wealthiest counties in the state, but there is still a need for services, and we are happy to see them being served. We support the multi-disciplinary approach.”
Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by impaired communication and social interaction, sensory issues, and repetitive actions, but looks different in each individual. One in every 68 children has autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Treatments include more conventional behavior and communication approaches including applied behavior analysis, occupational, physical, and speech therapy, and sensory integration therapy.
The Autism Alliance of Michigan does not take a position on hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a treatment nor do they list it as an established, emerging, or unestablished intervention for autism.
The FDA in a report said hyperbaric oxygen therapy “involves breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber and has been cleared by FDA only for certain medical uses, such as treating decompression sickness suffered by divers.”
Peterson said she couldn’t address why the FDA issued the warning, nor “why the agency can approve drugs that are pulled off the market.”
“This isn’t snake oil or way out there medicine, hyperbarics are in every hospital,” Peterson said. “More people die from prescription drugs, they aren’t dying from hyperbaric. People think the FDA has their best interest in mind, and sometimes they have what is best for the pharmaceutical companies in mind.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by increasing stem cell production 800 percent, she continued, and reduces inflammation. It is not covered by insurance as an autism treatment and costs about $195 per “dive,” or a little more than an hour-long session.
The Oxford Recovery Center therapies are a broad range of traditional and alternative, but Peterson said they are all research-based and supported. Other therapies include neurophysical therapy, applied behavior analysis, neuromuscular therapy, neurofeedback and nutrition coaching. They work together to achieve the best results, Peterson said and a course of treatment is determined after a free initial 45-minute consultation.
Oxford Recovery Center, which employs a staff of about 25, currently sees about 60 patients per day.
Peterson walks into a room occupied by two staff members, Andrea Walker, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, and Nico Pisanti, director of suit therapy. He shows a jacket with elastic ropes used to correct alignment and abnormal muscle tone as the pair talk about the rewards of their jobs helping children with cerebral palsy and adults who have suffered strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
They share the philosophy of Peterson, that key to recovery from many of the conditions treated at the center is retraining of the brain.
“Traditional therapy works the body, we start with the brain to get back to the body,” Pisanti said. He added the physical therapy conducted at Oxford is intense — three to four hours per day, five days per week — and effective. “The final result is what counts and we get great final results.”
“It’s amazing to see kids learn to stand alone,” Peterson said. “This is one of my favorite things to watch.”
She is excited to welcome patients and offer hope to families for recovery at the center’s new location.
“We’re different than any other facility in the country,” she said. “We want to make sure there is no place like us in the entire world. ... Recovery is possible and evident with a unique synergistic approach. The new center allows us to service, recover and help more people.”
Although Kim said her son Mitchell is doing things any 10-year-old boy might do — playing football and basketball, snowboarding, going to sleepovers and enjoying time with friends, she plans to continue to bring him to the center as his brain continues to develop.
“The hardest part is to admit there is something going on, you just think they are going to catch up, but the sooner you address it the easier it is,” Kim said. ”(Oxford Recovery Center) is a special place and we’re lucky it is right there (in Brighton). She is going to help a lot of people. They want your kid to get better just as much as you do.”
Cindy Zromkoski, who drove to Brighton from her home in Valparaiso in northwest Indiana, is new to the center and has high hopes for her son, Trevor, 15.
Trevor was diagnosed with autism at about 3-years-old. Zromkoski’s son was having more meltdowns than a typical kid his age, and wasn’t talking like he should.
Back home, she said he takes speech and occupational therapy and attends a special school. He speaks, but not in complete sentences. He is developmentally about the age of a 5- or 6-year-old. He shows interest in swimming, but not much else.
They expect to be at the Oxford Recovery Center five days a week for four weeks, with two 75-minute sessions per day of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and 90 minutes of applied behavior analysis.
Zromkoski is hopeful Trevor can develop his personality more, including a sense of humor and perhaps expand his food choices beyond French fries, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, peanut butter sandwiches, pizza and hot dogs.
“I am looking for any little improvement, that would be a miracle for us,” Zromkoski said. “I don’t look for him to be normal typical teenager, I just want him more engaged with us, not in his own little world.”
Information from: Livingston Daily Press & Argus, http://www.livingstondaily.com