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After a difficult delivery, Rylie was born with a limp left arm. Her parents, Stacy and Mike, were immediately told she had a brachial plexus injury, which means the nerves that control her arm and hand were damaged. They were also told her arm would heal within a year.
After a year of physical therapy and still no improvement in her arm function, Stacy and Mike were frustrated by the lack of support from Rylie’s neurologist. It became clear to Stacy that she and the doctor did not share the same attitude toward Rylie’s injury when he said, "She is going to be able to eat, what more do you want?"
The answer was easy for Stacy and Mike—they wanted the best for their daughter. Rylie’s arm was tucked into her side and rolled inward. She could barely move her arm or hand at all. Stacy and Mike decided to search for better medical options.
When Rylie was almost 3 years old, her parents found the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, a three hour drive from their hometown of Cambridge, Ohio.
Stacy described their first visit to the center as a "turning point" in their lives. "The team of specialists examined Rylie and listened to our goals and concerns for Rylie. The care was so different than the kind we had previously received from other physicians," said Stacy.
"Charles T. Mehlman, DO, MPH, was exactly what we had been looking for. He said, 'I can do this. I can help her.' He gave us back the hope we had lost. There was no doubt—he was determined to give our child the opportunity to have a normal life."
Stacy also appreciated how Dr. Mehlman interacted with Rylie. "They completely connected. Dr. Mehlman talked to her. It was clear that she was his patient, and he took an immediate interest in her. His personality and expertise made all the difference to us."
After a few more clinic visits and testing, which included an EMG test and MRI, the brachial plexus team recommended surgery that would involve releasing and transferring muscles in Rylie’s shoulder. Through two small poke-holes that didn’t even require stitches after the surgery, Dr. Mehlman loosened some of Rylie’s tightened muscles and tendons. Through a small incision in her armpit, he also transferred a muscle to improve Rylie’s ability to use her arm.
Having their child go through surgery was difficult for Stacy and Mike. “Any time you make a decision like this for your child, you question whether you are doing the right thing or not,” said Stacy. “Seeing Rylie’s improvement now, I tell other parents that I would definitely do it again—only sooner.”
Stacy describes the recovery period as "challenging." Rylie was in a brace for several weeks, which limited her ability to be active. Stacy remembers how much Rylie appreciated attention. "It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that needs to get done around the house," said Stacy. "But you have to make it a priority to help your child get through this by spending time with her."
When Rylie no longer needed to wear the brace, she began physical therapy two times per week with her therapist and every day with her family. Stacy stresses the importance of doing physical therapy on a daily basis at home for the best results. Rylie’s family incorporated physical therapy exercises into as many daily activities as possible by playing games, such as tossing a ball, and constantly finding opportunities for Rylie to use her arm and hand.
Stacy, who once felt lost and alone in her search for medical care for her daughter’s brachial plexus injury, now talks to other parents who are considering the same surgery for their own children. Recently, she told a family, "You couldn’t be in better hands with Dr. Mehlman."
For Stacy, helping other families makes what Rylie went through more worthwhile. “If you can help one person, it is worth it. I know if I had talked to someone who had already gone through this process, it would have made the stress and uncertainty a lot easier.”
Before coming to Cincinnati Children’s Brachial Plexus Center, Rylie could barely use her arm or hand at all. Her parents were told that she would never be able to swing a bat. Today, Rylie plays softball, basketball and karate. She climbs on swing sets and does cartwheels.
"People can’t even tell that Rylie has a brachial plexus injury now unless we tell them," said Stacy.
Even though Rylie still has some minor limitations, her family describes the surgery results as "amazing." Stacy said, "She will never be left out of things. All parents want their kids to have every opportunity, and this is what Cincinnati Children’s has given Rylie. Her arm functions well enough for her to do anything she decides to do."
What does this mean for Rylie and her family? "I have a new kid," said Stacy. She adds, "Dr. Mehlman changed Rylie’s life. He changed all our lives."
If you have an experience with Cincinnati Children's, we invite you to share your story.
"I have a new kid," says Stacy, Rylie's mom.
As part of one of the nation's leading pediatric medical centers, the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is recognized for its accomplished team of specialists. Our successful treatments for pediatric brachial plexus injuries and Erb's Palsy are directly related to treating the whole family with respect and compassion.
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