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Not Just Child's Play

Vent patients, York House kids learn together

What do you get when you put a top-quality child development center near a nationally renowned ventilator care unit?

As it turns out, you get benefits for both the patients and kids. Occupational therapist Erin King recognized that two-year-old Sofia Navejar Flores, as medically advanced as she is, needed more social development. Then she thought of the child development center, just one floor down from the rehabilitation center where Erin works.

"She hadn't learned play behaviors and some social skills typical of her age," King said. She contacted Twila Burdette, director of the child development center, also known as the "York House." Burdette welcomed the idea.

Soon, Sofia was engaged in regular play dates with the York House kids, who primarily are the children of Rockcastle Regional employees.

King accompanied and observed Sofia, who was discharged early in November 2018.

"Sometimes I'd guide her to a friend or to a situation where she needed to communicate and reciprocate," King said. "And sometimes it would be as simple as letting her play on the playground, kicking a ball, or 'cooking' in the miniature kitchen with other kids."

But it's not just the young who visit the York House; sometimes it's the young at heart.

On any given day, Teddy Fulton, along with a nursing assistant, might pop in the York House for a visit.

For many of the kids, Teddy was the first quadriplegic they had encountered on a personal level.

"They were timid at first," Burdette said. "But now, when Teddy comes in, they just go right up to him. They even have a nickname for him -- Mr. T." "They're very inquisitive," she noted. "They asked what happened to him that caused his injury." He was very open with them." A trampoline accident left Teddy, now 29, paralyzed when he was 16.

York House kids have always spent time visiting with ventilator patients, but only since the 2017 Respiratory Care Center expansion brought the York House under the same roof have the two areas been so close. Burdette has always noted how kids grow as they learn to interact with the ventilator patients.

"Kids are apprehensive at first because ventilator patients might look different and sound different than they are accustomed to. But over time, they become more comfortable and understanding and accepting of them."

"It makes kids more accepting of those who may not be exactly like we are."

In that way, Teddy notes, "I teach them things, and they look up to me. I am happy when I go to see them."

What makes them even more accepting of Teddy? He's a crafty one - sometimes he brings cookies.

Respiratory Care Center

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