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Perham three-year-old makes strides in therapy sessions

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Three-year-old Mikayla Mattson, with help from her physical therapist Sarah Gillespie, takes some steps on the Lite Gait machine. Mikayla has cerebral palsy and has attended Perham Health physical therapy for two years, after her adoption from Haiti.1 / 3
Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Mikayla Mattson2 / 3
Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Amy Mattson holds her daughter Mikayla after a therapy session recently. Amy and her husband Todd adopted Mikayla from Haiti. They also have a three-year-old son Gavin.3 / 3

Three-year-old Mikayla Mattson is learning to walk - and loving it.

Amy and Todd Mattson, of Perham, adopted Mikayla from Haiti when she was 10 months old. Within a month of her move here, the young girl began a long journey of occupational and physical therapy to help develop her muscles, which are weak from cerebral palsy.

She's been making strides in her walking abilities lately, thanks to a new treadmill-like machine at Perham Health. Called Lite Gait, the machine has a carrying seat that Mikayla gets strapped into. The track moves at extremely slow speeds, and adjusts for patients up to 200 pounds.

In her physical therapy sessions three days a week, Mikayla spends an average of 10 minutes walking with the aid of the machine.

At a session last week, occupational therapist Eric Rotter blew bubbles onto the track for a smiling Mikayla to step on, while physical therapist Sarah Gillespie, with a hand on each of Mikayla's feet, helped her take some steps.

As she got strapped into her carrying seat, she excitedly said, "walk, walk."

The Lite Gait is different than other walking equipment Mikayla has already mastered, because it offers less support, allowing the hips to fully extend and the legs to move in a full range of motion.

The lack of support scared Mikayla at first, but within a matter of weeks she got used to the swinging motion of her seat, Gillespie said.

The Mattson's were unaware of Mikayla's diagnosis at the time of her adoption, even though it was probably there at birth. Within a month, they learned of her condition.

"We felt surprised," Amy said. But they quickly began asking questions about what they needed to do to help Mikayla grow. The plan included intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy.

In Mikayla's two years in Perham, she has made a lot of progress. She has come a long way with upper body strength, and can pull her body forward with a combat army crawl up a stack of mats. She can now toss a ball, walk 200 feet in a walker, and - her most recent achievement - take a few steps alone on the Lite Gait.

The hope is Mikayla's legs will gain as much strength as her arms have over the last year. And she seems to be making progress: lately she appears to be using both legs equally instead of just the stronger one, Gillespie said.

The ultimate goal is to get Mikayla walking without any support at all, though her therapists aren't sure exactly when that might happen.

"We are pretty hopeful she will walk," Amy said. "It's a 'time will tell' type of thing."

At the end of her 45-minute session last week, Mikayla cuddled into her mom, looking exhausted.

The months ahead for Mikayla will include many more hours on special adaptive equipment, daily exercises, an upcoming surgery on her hip and special preschool classes.