A doctor's mission to save kids, save herself


ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affects a person's movement, balance, and posture. There is no cure, and patients are often told there's nothing that can be done to help them.  However, Jan Brunstrom, MD, at Washington University School of Medicine, wants to change that.

Brunstrom has had to overcome obstacles her whole life: she has cerebral palsy. 

"You grow up walking funny and having people always stare at you and always being judged first by how you look instead of what you know or what you can do," she said.

Brunstrom didn't let the disorder hold her back. She became a doctor, and now runs the most comprehensive and one of the largest cerebral palsy centers for children in the country. 

"They are worth fighting for, and they are worth finding answers to help them," said Brunstrom.

13-year-old Simon Detmer is one of Dr. Brunstrom's patients.  His mom, Gina Detmer, says Dr. Brunstrom offers a unique perspective.

"There's no doubt that it does help her to empathize with the kids. I love the fact that she has a very high expectation for him," Gina Detmer said.

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in kids. About one in every 323 children in the U.S. has it.  Brunstrom stresses the importance of physical fitness with her patients. She has them perform sports and strength training exercises, but also informs them about the latest medical therapies. 

"My goal is to see a cure for CP," Brunstrom explained. 

Gina Deter's son Simon would like that, too. 

"Everything would just be different, [like] my daily things, carrying things, everything," Simon told Ivanhoe.

While Brunstrom has helped many of her patients improve, she says they've also helped her.

"It was the kids and their parents that really taught me that I'm okay the way I am," Brunstrom said. "I would not be the person that I am if it weren't for all these kids."

Brunstrom is a doctor who knows the challenges her patients face, and wants to help them every step of the way.

Brunstrom's Pediatric Neurology Cerebral Palsy Center is located in St. Louis. The center has a team of experts including neurologists, orthopedic surgeons and nurses. They also have occupational, physical, speech and sports therapists, sports rehab, and an augmentative communication team to help patients. Brunstrom has been active herself in cycling, dancing, swimming, martial arts, and other sports.

Additional Information:

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture which causes impaired movement such as involuntary movements, rigidity of the limbs and trunk, unsteadiness of walking, or a combination of these symptoms. Cerebral palsy may contribute to other neurological problems such as seizures, intellectual disabilities, abnormal touch or pain perceptions, urinary incontinence, and difficulty with vision and hearing. The cause of cerebral palsy is an abnormality or disruption in brain development before or during a child's birth, or sometimes in the first few years of life. Many times the exact cause of the abnormality is unknown but some factors that may lead to problems with brain development include lack of oxygen, maternal infections, infant infections, fetal stroke, random mutations, and traumatic brain injury. There is no cure for cerebral palsy but treatments and medications that may help exist. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)

Key Cerebral Palsy Facts:

  •  Cerebral palsy is non-life-threatening – Most children with the condition are expected to live into adulthood.
  •  Therapy and treatments can be used to help manage symptoms.
  •  Cerebral palsy is non-progressive – The brain lesion is a one-time injury which will not further degenerate the brain. Cerebral palsy is permanent – The injury to the brain is permanent.  Since the brain does not heal as the other parts of our body, cerebral palsy will not become better or worse over a lifetime.  However, associative conditions may become better or worse.
  •  Cerebral palsy is not contagious – Brain damage is not communicable and does not spread through human contact.
  •  Cerebral palsy is manageable – Therapy, treatment, medication, surgery, and assistive technology can be used to help manage cerebral palsy.
  •  Cerebral palsy is chronic – Cerebral palsy is not temporary.  A person with the condition will have it for their lifetime.

(Source:  http://cerebralpalsy.org/)