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July 22, 2012

Wheelchair, poodle liberate Presley

Parents see child, 3, overcome cerebral palsy disabilities

DUNCAN — When Chris and Megan Vargas of Duncan found an opportunity for their daughter to be able to do everything a toddler should be able to, they jumped at the chance.

Presley, now 3, was born with cerebral palsy and has limited use of her legs and right arm.

Like most 3-year-olds, Presley has an independent spirit and is usually ready to be on the move in order to get into everything and anything.

Just before she was 18-months-old, she was accepted into a study at the University of Oklahoma College of Allied Health that utilizes a motorized wheelchair.

“I have a friend who has a disabled child and she emailed me the information about the study,” Megan said.

“I called them and within a week they were out here to test her.”

Conducted by Maria Jones Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of physical therapy, the study was a first in finding out if very young children could learn to use power-operated chairs. The children accepted to the study were split into two groups, those who were and those who were not given chairs.

They then compared the learning curves and personalities of the two groups. Presley was drawn into the group who did receive a chair, which they were given at the end of the study.

“We were super happy (when we found out she got a chair),” said Megan. “Within a week, she just blossomed.”

Once moved from the family’s living room chair to her motorized one, Presley’s entire being lights up. Using her left hand, she maneuvers it around furniture and in and out of doors with hardly any effort, chattering away all the while.

Despite some apprehension when they first received the chair, Presley’s parents acknowledges it is one of the best things to happen for their daughter. While Megan’s little girl once depended on her for most kinds of movement, Presley began becoming more independent and confident.

“I was a little nervous about her moving around and the thought that she might hurt herself,” she said. “She hasn’t ever hurt herself in the chair though.”

It also gave the toddler a bigger incentive to become more mobile. That is one reason that the Vargas’ encourage any parent who has a child with disabilities to try to get into this study or get a similar wheelchair.

“It has encouraged her and she works harder in her physical therapy,” said Megan. “It has liberated both of us.”

Before the study, when the family was in social situations such as child parties, Presley would watch the other children and become frustrated because she couldn’t move unless Megan did it for her. Once she got the chair, that all changed.

“She’ll let you know when she wants to get into her chair because she says ‘I want my car,’ and that’s what she associates with play,” Megan said. “She’s happiest in her chair and she’ll chase her friends around in it and they love it.”

Presley will begin going into more social situations in the fall when she enters the Early Head Start program at Irving. They work closely with disabled children and know how to take care of them.

In addition to the chair, the Vargas’ have adopted a special addition to their family. Their four-legged friend Charlie Brown is a poodle who is in training to be Presley’s service dog.

“He will learn to pick up things, turn on lights for her, open doors and detect seizures if that is ever needed,” Megan said.

“He has even helped her become more independent because now instead of sleeping in bed with us, she will sleep in her own bed with Charlie.”

Although Presley finished the study about six months ago, she was allowed to keep the chair.

As she grows, it can be modified to fit bigger frames. The seat she has now can hold up to 130 pounds, but bigger chairs can be put onto the device if and when it is needed.

“We’ve been blessed,” said Megan.

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