The effects of a stroke while in surgery last March left 14-year-old Aneliz Medina of Decatur unable to do the things she once enjoyed.
“I’m a normal girl,” she said. “I just can’t walk normal right now. And I don’t really get to go with my friends because I have to go to therapy or home. And I can’t do things like jump on my trampoline or do cartwheels and go to PE or play tag with my cousins – I can’t be running with them anymore.”
But thanks to the generosity of an area non-profit service organization, the McCarroll Middle School seventh grader is able to once again experience the thrill of hair-jostling fast movement.
AMBUCS Inc., an organization dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities, last Friday donated to Aneliz an AmTryke – a modified tricycle that accommodates riders of all ages, sizes and physical limitations.
The unique tricycles, which can be hand- or foot-operated, offer therapeutic benefits such as improved motor skills, strength development and higher self-esteem.
But the only benefit Aneliz noticed last weekend was having fun.
“Right now, I just like to ride my bike,” she said when asked what her hobbies were. “I rode my bike around the block all weekend. My parents took turns going with me. I was going really fast up the hills so I wouldn’t get stuck and roll back. Then I would go even faster going down the hills. My dad was really tired at the end. But I had so much fun.”
Last spring, Aneliz visited the doctor for frequent nausea and numbness in half of her body. Doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth ran tests and discovered a tumor on the right lobe of her brain, near her ear.
“They said it wasn’t cancerous; it was just growing in the wrong spot,” Aneliz said. “So they were going to go in and take it out. But he wasn’t going to shave my hair. I was really glad. That made me feel better. He told me I’d be in the hospital for a week; only for a week.”
That week turned to two months after Aneliz had a stroke while on the operating table.
“My whole right side was affected,” she said. “Now I have to take therapy and all that.”
Twice a week, Aneliz sees a physical and speech therapist at Fit-N-Wise for 30 minutes each, in addition to a monthly visit with a counselor and a weekly, 30-minute session with physical therapist Sheri Huling at school.
As part of therapy with Ms. Sheri, Aneliz does various exercises, stretches and activities. But undoubtedly her favorite is riding the bike.
“Every time we bring that bike out, her little face lights up,” Huling said. “We try to get on the bike every therapy, but we have to get some other activities in. She really enjoys riding that bike.”
While Aneliz embraces the element of fun, her therapist sings the praises of the therapeutic benefits of bike-riding.
“With therapeautic bikes, you can do lower extremity strengthening, bilateral coordination activities, reciprocal movement with lower extremeties,” Huling said. “It plays into so many things. With Aneliz, we’re really working on strength and endurance, and with a bike, you get to do that in a fun way.
“I’ve been doing pediatrics for a number of years, and I have found the importance of turning work into play, the need to incorporate our exercises into fun things so that they don’t feel like it’s work,” she continued. “Kids do so much better if you can incorporate therapy into something that’s fun for them.
“With the bike, the kids can’t really tell it’s work because they’re having fun. Bikes give them that feeling that they’re going fast – that’s what they like. But it’s also a great, great modality to get some strengthening. They’re very expensive, though.”
Even smaller versions of the bike cost between $1,000 and $1,500. Having heard about AMBUCS through patients in the past, Huling encouraged Aneliz and her parents – Jose and Alma Medina – to submit an application last fall. Aneliz was able to bypass “a huge waiting list,” and despite the members’ best efforts to present the bike to Aneliz before the Christmas break, vacations and illnesses interceded.
“Their organization is so precious,” Huling said. “All they ask is that if you are finished using it, that you donate it back so they can recycle it. They don’t ask for anything in return. They just want to give. And they really wanted to give Aneliz her bike before Christmas. It just didn’t work out.”
But last Friday, the pieces fell together and Aneliz went home with her her very own red AmTryke.
“I love it,” she said. “I am so happy they let me have one. I want to ride it every single day – if the weather is nice. If I get to ride my bike, then it’s a good day for me.”
For information on AmTrykes, visit the AMBUCS website www.ambucs.org/amtryke. While most bikes are donated, they are also available for purchase.