The Measure of Success

Health and Happiness Both Key Components

By Donna Payne

Kaiden1There are more than 1 billion internet results when you search for the measure of success. For the Armstrong family of Waldron, it may be as simple as a smile. Jerrod Armstrong and his partner, Katy Page, have found creative ways to make that happen with their son, Kaiden. The 10-year-old experienced profound head trauma when he was a toddler, resulting in a myriad of disabilities that require total care. Kaiden attends the Kistler Center weekly for speech and physical therapies. The Center also provides CES waiver services for Kaiden and his family. The CES Waiver program provides staff who care for Kaiden and special equipment for the Armstrong home, allowing him to live with his family.

Therapy at the Kistler Center for Kaiden began when he was 2. The constant hope is for progress but, at least, to maintain the abilities he has. The goals may seem insignificant to some, but for Jerrod and Katy, they are vital. They are more than silent observers during therapy sessions. They take what they see and learn from the therapists to enhance Kaiden’s care at home. “From the time we started here to today, we’ve achieved a lot of goals with him,” said Jerrod. “He’s never been hospitalized for an illness, only procedures.” Jerrod is a deputy with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, which is about 900 square miles, as well as a volunteer firefighter for the town of Boles just south of Waldron. A break from the pressures of law enforcement is good for Jerrod – and Kaiden.

“He loves going out to the park,” Kaiden’s dad said. “He loves swinging. The wind, the sound, he loves us to push him fast in his stroller. When you’re cooped up inside all day, then you go outside and feel the sunshine. That in itself is it’s own rejuvenation.” Kaiden and his dad also have a routine for showers. “I just tote him up over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes,” he laughed. “Kaiden loves it.” The waiver program has installed an overhead lift system and remodeled a bathroom with a roll-in shower, which is helpful for Katy, who is just slightly larger than Kaiden. Waiver also built a ramp outside the home to make it wheelchair accessible. Nutrition is a major focus for Kaiden, who has oral dysplasia and, for now, receives the majority of his nutrients through his feeding tube. “His mouth just won’t move like mine or yours,” speech-language pathologist Jessica Kelley said. “Sometimes, it’s two steps forward and one step back.”

The consistency of foods is the focus. Because it’s not safe for him to chew foods because of the risk of aspiration, Kaiden has his food thickened to a honey consistency. And, he is learning to drink from a straw. “The more he does it, the better he’s going to get at it,” Jessica said. His therapy goals include adding textures and mashed foods. “He likes to try new things and his family has been wonderful.” Katy said Kaiden is a very willing participant. “He likes coffee, sweetened coffee. It has to be mainly sweetener,” she laughed. Also, chocolate milk, not white milk. And spaghetti and meatloaf, both of which must be pureed with water. And don’t forget the sauces – barbecue and soy are his favorites. “Every one of those steps, we’ve had to teach him, individually,” Jessica said. “Our goal is for him to put those steps together so he can eat and drink.”

Kaiden2Katy carefully keeps up with calories and volume. “When he does eat well, we balance it out,” she said. “By being with him 24/7, you have to keep it in mind and be a numbers person.” “He does enjoy eating,” his dad said. “Sometimes it makes it slower on feeding when he gets so excited.” Physical therapist Kristen Ricketts, who began her association with the Kistler Center as a volunteer in junior high school, gets quite a workout while treating Kaiden. And her goal is specific. “If he stands up, it helps everything else work, too,” Kristen said. Meanwhile, she gets as big a workout as Kaiden during therapy sessions, using songs and big smiles to keep him engaged. At home, there is an all-day schedule that includes range-of-motion exercises, oral exercises, stander time, measured feedings and general care. And showering, Kaiden’s favorite activity.

“I could be outside and I’d hear him whooping and hollering. He loves taking a shower. That’s his thing,” Katy said. His weekly trips to Fort Smith also provide him with joy. “When I’m getting him before therapy, I always ask him if he’s ready to see Miss Kristen and Miss Jessica and he gets excited,” Katy said. Katy and Jerrod share Kaiden’s feelings about the Kistler Center.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Jerrod said. “With the therapists, we’ll talk about anything and everything. Whether it’s Kaiden or, while they’re doing stuff, Katy and the therapists talk about their week. It’s like therapy for all involved.”

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