Source: Ryan Alves, The News-Enterprise
In most ways, Lexy Mays is an average 12-year-old.
She loves her five dogs and two cats but wants more. She has a sweet tooth for junk food.
Lexy likes to read, usually about dogs, and dreams of one day having her own animal shelter.
She hopes her family soon can move to a farm so she can get a horse, a pig and some goats.
Her mother, Catrina, says she “rules the roost.”
Lexy describes herself as “rotten.”
She was born with cerebral palsy, and since she was 9 months old has been receiving therapy to help with some paralysis on the right side of her body.
Since then, she’s made plenty of improvements, but Catrina said her daughter’s biggest strides have been made since becoming a patient at Hardin Memorial Health’s Pediatric Therapy Center, which is at 1111 Ring Road in Elizabethtown.
The center’s one-of-a-kind indoor therapeutic playground, which was constructed as a replica to most playground sets at parks or schools, has helped the most.
It includes swings, slides, rooms with windows and doors, rings and monkey bars, among other equipment.
“Not only is it helping these kids physically, but it’s also helping them emotionally with their confidence,” Catrina said. “Most kids with special needs aren’t going to play on the playground. They’re going to sit on the bench because they may not be able to do all the stuff. When they come here, they can work on those specific tools.”
Lexy’s favorite part of the playground is the swings.
She and her orthopedic therapist, Danielle Sexton, demonstrated a workout on the swings Friday.
Lexy laid on her stomach and used a rope with knots in it to pull herself across a section of track.
“We’re strengthening her shoulders, her hands,” Sexton said. “We can even change the rope around to simulate her holding different things. We can make it thicker to maybe work on holding a glass of water. Or smaller to hold maybe a pencil.”
Another exercise put Lexy on a scooter, while she used her hands and feet to propel herself up and down ramps.
She also spent time underneath the playset in what’s called the “castle,” where patients can work on speech therapy and sensory exercises.
In the demonstration, Sexton knocked on a door, while Lexy opened it and greeted her with a high-five.
Catrina said exercises at the therapy center also can be aimed at specific life adjustments children go through as they grow older.
“Lexy is transitioning to middle school, so now she has a locker,” she said. “Danielle actually brought in a lock to help her learn. Even things like tying your shoes, which most of us take for granted, can be something difficult for someone with special needs. That was actually one of Lexy’s goals — to tie her shoes. And she’s learned that.”
The playground also has stairs, which for kids with special needs, can be a daunting task.
“They have to learn that balance it takes to walk up and down them,” Catrina said. “Stairs were a big thing for Lexy several years ago.”
Sexton gave all the credit back to Lexy for the improvements she’s made.
“She’s absolutely worked her butt off,” Sexton said.
The two have been working together for six years and have a special bond.
Catrina said Sexton was Lexy’s “favorite aunt.” Sexton said she and Lexy are “BFFs.” Lexy said Sexton was “sassy,” a comment that sent the room into laughter.
Lexy attends therapy three times a week at the therapy center.
The sessions don’t have a set length, usually lasting as long as the patient is comfortable with, Sexton said.
The playground area, which is 1,500-square feet, was a large part of a 3,700 square-foot expansion of the center.
It was procured by the Hardin Memorial Health Foundation thanks to donations from WesBanco, WHAS Crusade for Children and The Kentucky Colonels.
In 2016, the center had 2,399 visits for pediatric occupational therapy, 1,897 pediatric visits for speech therapy and 1,725 pediatric visits for physical therapy.
The demand to become a patient is high with roughly 90 kids on a waiting list to begin therapy at the center.
From 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, the therapy center will host an unveiling for patients and staffers. It will include demonstrations on programs and playground use.
Lexy and Catrina plan to attend.
“I can’t say enough about this place,” Catrina said. “Until they tell me that she doesn’t need therapy anymore, Lexy will be right here.”