At Target Field, on a beautiful summer day in August 2019, Samuel Anastos scored the first honorary run of the game as a part of Gillette’s Sunday Kids Day in partnership with the Minnesota Twins.
He and his older brother sprinted to the plate while a sold-out crowd cheered them on. They held hands the entire way home.
It was a joyous moment made all the more meaningful because there was a time in Sam’s life when his parents questioned whether he would learn to walk or talk, much less run.
“Sam was born 5 weeks premature,” his mother, Barbara recounts. “The impact this would have on his future development was completely unclear. We were told that we just had to ‘wait and see’.”
Sam progressed typically during his infancy, but at 5 months as his right hand became more capable, the difference between the use of his hands became pronounced.
“His left arm would just hang behind his back. It’s like he didn’t even know that he had it,” Barbara says. “After stressing these concerns to his pediatrician, we were referred to a neurologist who upon meeting Sam, immediately diagnosed him with left-hemiparesis cerebral palsy. A subsequent MRI indicated that it appeared that Sam had a stroke while he was in utero. Although, having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the impact was unknown and would only be seen as Sam developed. As a parent, not knowing if your child will ever be able to walk, talk or feed themselves? It’s the most terrifying thing in the world.”
After receiving Sam’s diagnosis, he began both physical and occupational therapy and was eventually referred to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare when he was 9 months old.
Cerebral palsy (CP) can be a confusing diagnosis for many parents to receive because the symptoms of the condition aren’t always immediately apparent. CP isn’t a single condition; it’s really an umbrella term to describe a wide range of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.
“The individual symptoms of CP can often be quite subtle and there can be minor delays or missed milestones that often aren’t noticed right away,” says Nannette Aldahondo, MD, a Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine Specialist at Gillette. “In Sam’s case, showing individual hand preference at such a young age is a warning sign and Sam’s parents did the right thing to ask questions about it. Parents usually have a pretty accurate idea about what’s going on with their child and no parent should be left with a lingering doubt.”
Gillette operates its Motor Delay Clinic precisely for parents and families who have similar questions and concerns.
“At our Motor Delay Clinic, children ages 0 to 4 see multiple medical experts in one visit,” Aldahondo says. “A Gillette pediatric neurologist and pediatric rehabilitation medicine specialist work together as a team to evaluate, screen and diagnose children who are experiencing delayed development in gross motor skills. Gillette physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists also assist in performing evaluations and creating a treatment plan. There are also excellent resources in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota we can connect families with that can provide additional support as they progress through the treatment process.”
Sam continues in his therapies and his progress has been such that he only needs examinations with Aldahondo every six months. His family credits the early intervention of the specialists at Gillette in the progress he’s made. Sam may require additional treatments or procedures going forward, but—as you can very clearly see— he’s a happy kid with a big smile and it seems there’s very little the future doesn’t hold for him.
“It’s funny because we live in the Twin Cities and we didn’t know about Gillette before we had Sam,” Barbara says. “When we got his CP diagnosis we were quite overwhelmed until we found out that we just so happened to live 20 minutes away from a hospital that is a world-renowned expert in the treatment of the condition. The treatment Sam has received from Gillette and Dr. Aldahondo has been such a blessing and comfort to our family.”
Sam has also recently been involved in what looks to be a promising clinical trial through Duke Health that involves using an infusion of umbilical cord blood stem cells to attempt to improve brain connectivity and motor function in children who have cerebral palsy. His family is hopeful that his participation will further improve Sam’s progress as he grows. Either way, Aldahondo says that the best prognosis for future progress is past progress, and in Sam’s case this bodes well.
“In an ideal world our kids would come to us and we could treat them and send them on their way, but the reality is that many children who have CP will require treatment and therapy throughout much of their development. One positive byproduct of that is that you really get to know them and often, their entire family,” Aldahondo says. “That level of continuity is one of the most fulfilling aspects of what we
get to do. I first met Sam when he was a baby, and to see where he’s at now and to be able to continue to help him and his family meet their goals is something that makes me incredibly happy.”