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Brisbane QLD, Australia

©2017 BY THE HARLIE RUSSELL FOUNDATION LTD. Photo credits Linda Wiseman & Shaun Clifford

  • The Harlie Russell Team

Medical Monday Question

What is Cerebral Palsy?




Fact: Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy. Fact: Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood disability worldwide.

So why aren't we talking about this?


When Harlie was first diagnosed, I honestly didn't know what CP was. I had heard of it. I knew it meant she would be in a wheelchair, but why? Was it her muscles? Her legs? Her spine? No. It's actually a neurological condition, most commonly through starvation of oxygen to the brain before, during or shortly after birth. In Harlie's case, it was caused by an infection due to her prematurity. The infection caused the part of the brain responsible for muscle control to be permanently damaged. This affects fine and gross motor skills but can also affect swallowing, speech and bladder and bowel control.


The command to tense, or increase muscle tone, goes to the spinal cord via nerves from the muscle itself. The command to be flexible, or reduce muscle tone, comes to the spinal cord from nerves in the brain. These two commands must be well coordinated in the spinal cord for muscles to work smoothly and easily while maintaining strength.


Harlie's brain is therefore unable to influence the amount of flexibility her muscles should have. The command from the muscle itself dominates the spinal cord and, as a result, the muscle is too tense, or spastic. This spasticity affects her arms and legs. Overtime the spasticity caused tightness mainly in her calves and hamstrings. As her leg muscles were taken over by the spasticity, they began to shrink, pulling her legs into a "bent" position. It became impossible for Harlie to straighten her legs by 4 years of age and continued to get worse as she grew.


These spinal nerves are selected and cut during Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) surgery to relieve the spasticity in her legs. Without the spasticity, Harlie must now rely on her leg muscles to stand. But after 7 years of those muscles having little strength, Harlie must work hard everyday. Overtime Harlie will become stronger and improve her balance, therefore have the ability to walk.


CP affects people in many different ways as there are varying severities and types of the condition. Harlie's doctors warned she would never sit, crawl, walk or talk. Well look out world; here she comes!



If you would like to know more about CP, visit the Cerebral Palsy Alliance website https://research.cerebralpalsy.org.au/what-is-cerebral-pal…/

#cp #cerebralpalsy #whatiscp #stepup4harlie #sdrchangeslives