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Cerebral Palsy
John Michael Mulkey

Theresa Mulkey knew there was something wrong with her son John Michael by the sound of his newborn cry. It didn’t sound like that of his older brother David. It was high pitched, like the shrill of a kitten. “I’m a nurse. My husband is a nurse. I worked for a pediatrician in Hoover, and I kept telling people something was wrong with my son,” Theresa recalls. “But they said he was fine. They told me I had postpartum depression.”

When John Michael was 6 months old, she took him back to the doctor, and she finally got answers. But the news was devastating. Her son had an ear infection, but what was strange is that he was pulling his left ear with his right hand. The pediatrician sent Theresa to Children’s Hospital where tests showed John Michael had a brain injury. He had suffered a stroke in an area of the brain just above the cerebellum, an area that develops in fetuses around 12 weeks gestation. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a set of neurological conditions that cause physical disability.

Theresa and her husband Neal were told that the extent of John Michael’s disability would not be fully realized until he was older, but they could expect him to need medications and surgery, and he may never walk. He was started on physical therapy and occupational therapy immediately. The Mulkeys also paid for extra therapy above and beyond what insurance provided. They wanted to give him every opportunity possible.

Sixteen years have passed since John Michael was diagnosed, and the road has been difficult, but not discouraging. He had his first surgery when he was 1 year old and has since had another 30 operative procedures. Procedures included an operation on his spinal cord, surgeries to break and reposition the bones in his legs, and numerous muscle transfers. Recovery was tough, but he made it through with a positive spirit.

John Michael started walking at age 7, and by 10, was no longer using a wheelchair. He now runs on a treadmill – or down the hallways at his high school – at a pretty good clip. He does well in school, enjoys fishing and four-wheeling, loves mechanics, and has a zest for life that is unparalleled. By all accounts, the future looks bright for John Michael.

“We hope there will be no more surgeries but there is always a chance. He’s a growing boy,” Theresa says. “But, he knows how blessed he is. He just has that kind of attitude.”
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