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F-U-N is a big part of Rehab 1-2-3

The new pediatrics therapy lab at Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's is a hit with children and therapists, too.

By BABITA PERSAUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


TAMPA -- Fun isn't the only thing the new pediatrics therapy lab at Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's has going for it.

Sure, it looks like a Romper Room set, with a Candyland-type trail on the floor and a pirate ship in the corner. And sure, it's a lot better than the old rehabilitation center, with its dingy gray carpet and floor mats.

But what the new lab aims to be, above all, is helpful to kids such as 8-year-old Daniel Scheerhorn, who had a brain tumor removed, underwent chemotherapy and lost most of the use of his left arm.

Physical therapists who work with children such as Daniel jumped at the chance to offer their ideas to the designers of the lab, called Rehab 1-2-3.

A toilet, they said, would be useful for training the kids in wheelchairs who have difficulty getting in and out of the chairs. So a non-working toilet was put into a corner of the lab, along with a bathtub. A room that looks like a bedroom was included. And the ramps and beams typical of a physical therapy lab were disguised as a drawbridge to a pirate ship and a log across the water.

The lab also has a mock school bus with steps exactly like those on a real school bus. When the kids finally climb onto a real bus, said center manager Maria Chirico, they won't "be intimidated by fear."

Rehab 1-2-3 has a low swing and a balance beam to help kids build muscle control and balance. It has a gigantic play organ, called Captain Pipes, that pops toys out of holes when keys are pressed. This can help build eye-hand coordination, Chirico said. Plus, children love it.

"They won't feel like they are in a physical therapy session," she said.

Rehab 1-2-3 opened officially in August on the third floor of the Medical Arts building, in the pediatrics outpatient department.

All kinds of patients, infants through teens, use the lab, including those with Down's syndrome, attention deficit disorder, cerebral palsy, heart problems and cancer.

The lab has about 10 therapists specializing in audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.

The idea of making hospitals kid-friendly is not new. Hospital wards for children are often decorated with primary colors, and many make use of toys.

But expanding such concepts to a physical therapy lab is unusual. The 2,290-square-foot center was funded by the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation through donations.

It is a hit with the kids, especially Daniel, who was climbing the rope ladder on the pirate ship Friday.

Before brain surgery, he was on the top bunk at home. Afterward, he was too weak to climb. Now, he's back in action, working on his left arm strength on the rope ladder.

"I want to climb the ladder at home," he said.

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