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A Lifelong Learning Experience - Thiago Pizzonia


Mar, 2019

At just seven months old, Thiago Pizzonia was diagnosed with cerebral palsy – a neurological disorder that impacts the development of certain motor skills. Upon learning the news of his condition, Thiago’s mother Ieda set in motion a course of treatment that would forever change her son’s life.

“I was determined to give Thiago the same life as any other child,” said Ieda. “We were living in Brazil at the time and I didn’t waste any time getting him involved with a rehabilitation program.”

In 2014 the Pizzonia family relocated to southwest Michigan after Thiago’s dad, Diego, accepted a new job at Whirlpool Corporation. At the time, Thiago was three years old. Not wanting to lose the progress that had already been made, Ieda turned to Lakeland Rehabilitation.

“The first person we met at Lakeland was Keri Pawielski and she was simply amazing,” said Ieda. “She performed an initial assessment on Thiago and helped guide us through the entire process to establish a new care team here in Michigan.”

While cerebral palsy can impact a number of different areas of the body, for Thiago, the motor skills on his right side were primarily affected. As a result, his treatment plan consisted of both physical therapy to strengthen his muscles and assist with balance and coordination and occupational therapy to help him learn the everyday tasks he would need to succeed both at home and school. Thiago also struggled with speech development, and as a bilingual child speaking primarily Portuguese, this presented a unique challenge for his speech therapist.

“His entire care team is really involved and connected with our situation – they all work together with the same goal in mind,” said Ieda. “We see his therapists once or twice a week and they quickly became like family to us. I know I can go to them with any questions I have. Not having any other family or friends in the area this is so important to me.”

Together they worked on skills such as balance, safety on the playground, cutting paper, and holding a cup. Thiago also had to learn how to adjust to wearing a brace on his right leg to help correct his foot from dragging. Keri helped connect Thiago with pediatric neurologist, Steven DeRoos, MD, at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids who has managed his care for the last four years.

“Dr. DeRoos truly listens to what we have to say and answers any questions we have,” said Ieda. “He understands the importance of treating the entire family and I really value that he has a relationship with both the parent and the child.”

“His therapy is so personalized to treat his individual needs and I truly believe this has been a key factor in the progress he’s made,” said Ieda. “His therapists have made it possible for Thiago to be in school and keep up with his classmates. He is able to do almost everything the other children can and this has been a huge boost to his self-esteem.”

Since cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, each time Thiago grows and enters a new stage of life different challenges will present themselves. But with his care team by his side, Ieda has no doubt he’ll overcome each and everyone one of them.

“They have all built such a beautiful connection with Thiago over the years – he really trusts them,” said Ieda. “I can’t imagine where he would be today without Lakeland Rehabilitation.”


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