Caressa’s Courage

A 4-year-old girl is facing an uphill battle as she recovers from surgery to remove a tumor on her spine. See how physical therapy designed just for kids is helping her. 7’s Christine Cruz shows us “Caressa’s Courage.”

WSVN — One year ago, it would have been impossible for little Caressa Birks to take a step.

Her dad says she was born a healthy baby girl.

Christopher Birks: “Everything seemed to be normal, milestones being achieved and quickly, and early things started to change.”

It started with severe stomach pains and then trouble standing and walking. An MRI confirmed their worst fears.

Christopher Birks: “We learned then that she had a large abnormal growth on her spine.”

The 4-year-old needed surgery right away.

Christopher Birks: “Nothing like a parent to hear your child is going to need surgery and it’s a matter of life or death.”

Luckily, the operation was a success.

Christopher Birks: “He was able to remove about 85 to 90 percent of the tumor.”

But this brave little girl still had a long road ahead.

Christopher Birks: “She’s going to need aggressive rehab and therapy.”

Caressa now goes to pediatric therapy three times a week at Memorial Hospital Miramar. Her physical therapist, Cheryl Burley, says working with children has its own set of challenges.

Cheryl Burley: “When the children are frightened or if they’re in pain, it makes it much more difficult to work with them.”

That’s why they made therapy more like going to a kids’ jungle gym.

Caressa loves to squeeze herself through what she calls the cookie dough.

Cheryl Burley: “She has to engage her core so she can roll and have to pull herself through by using her arms.”

This activity builds her strength along with the ziplining.

Cheryl Burley: “I want her to have fun with the activities, but they also have to accomplish a purpose.”

When Caressa started, her body was so stiff she could barely keep her balance.

Cheryl Burley: “She would fall frequently, she would trip over her legs, she couldn’t lift her right foot off of the floor.”

But after months of hard work and determination, she’s learning to walk again.

Cheryl Burley: “She’s getting return of the muscles in the right hip and her knee and her foot and ankle.”

Her dad is amazed at how far his little girl has come.

Christopher Birks: “She’s taking steps, jumping on trampolines.”

He knows Caressa’s journey is far from over, but says it’s her courage that keeps him going.

Christopher Birks: “As you see her triumph every day, it’s a blessing.”

The tumor on Caressa’s spine was benign, but she may face more surgeries in the future. Her physical therapist says she will be running and jumping with her peers in no time.

In the plex, Christine Cruz, 7News.




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