From wheelchair to walker

Katherine Gaudio, in her walker, assisted by physical therapist Erin Meineke.

While virtually all of Matheny’s students and patients spend most of their lives in wheelchairs, they often spend time in a walker during physical therapy to increase their endurance and strengthen their muscles. Occasionally, a surprising breakthrough occurs during these physical therapy sessions.

Katherine Gaudio is an 11-year-old student who decided she didn’t want to return to her wheelchair and expressed her desire to make her posterior walker her main mode of mobility. “She is her own best advocate,” says Erin Meineke, DPT, her school physical therapist. “She made her opinion known.”

The hardest adjustment, Meineke says, was transitioning from a physical therapy session to utilizing the walker all day long because she didn’t realize how much energy it would take to use it all day. “In the beginning she was very tired. But now she’s had her walker for three months, and she’s stronger and more confident and not as tired at the end of the day,” she says.

Gaudio has used the walker on trips to Wal-Mart and to her Girl Scout meetings. And she’s also riding a regular bicycle with training wheels. She can safely transfer in and out of her walker, with supervision; and she can also safely sit in a regular chair, without a safety belt, in class or in the dining room or her bedroom. “Walking,” says Meineke, “is something the therapists are always working on, but it’s usually walking with an aide. Katherine didn’t want to be done walking after a therapy session.”

The whole transition, she adds, actually took a couple of years, but “she has always been a strong advocate for herself. She broke all the rules.”