EIGHT-YEAR-OLD KATIE PANASKO LIVES WITH LOW VISION AND CEREBRAL PALSY, A MEDICAL CONDITION IN WHICH THE BRAIN HAS TROUBLE CONTROLLING MOVEMENT. THESE REASONS COMBINED COULD HAVE MADE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY A REAL CHALLENGE FOR KATIE, BUT SHE FOUND A PERFECT PLAYGROUND.
At 18 months old, Katie started aquatic physical therapy at a local therapy center and began gaining strength to stand up in the pool and eventually take her first steps.
“When we learned Katie lost her physical therapy spot due to a scheduling issue, we almost panicked,” says Jen Panasko, Katie’s mom. “That is, until we found adaptive swim lessons offered at our
SPLASH ALONG WITH US
Washington Health System’s Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center is one of the first facilities in the Pittsburgh area to offer adaptive swim lessons and has since 2016, says Ken Elliott, Development Coordinator, Washington Health System Foundation. These private lessons span 30 minutes and focus on water safety and proper swimming techniques.
“Group swim lessons can be challenging for students living with developmental, physical or cognitive disabilities,” Elliott says. “Private lessons, however, allow students like Katie to learn at their own pace and in their preferred learning style.”
For a year now, Katie has worked closely with Miss Mary, a swim instructor at the Wellness Center, and made great gains.
“She’s gotten stronger, especially in her hips from kicking the water and pushing against the pool wall,” Jen says, “which makes it easier for her to stay balanced when walking. Her teachers have
commented on how she is moving faster and walking taller. Her muscles are stronger, and she carries more confidence now. It’s inspiring to watch her progress.”
Katie’s most recent achievement includes bicycling her legs on a pool noodle to move from one end of the pool to the other without assistance. This took place during her most recent birthday
“All of her grandparents were cheering through tears,” Jen says. “It’s one of many reasons we’re thankful for Miss Mary and her swimming lessons. We plan to take lessons from her as long as she’s here and hope to see this swim program expanded so more kids can benefit.”