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07/12/2017

Physical Therapy Students and Professor Pioneer an Exercise Program for Children with Disabilities that Fills a National Void

Our Students Are Changing Lives

Nine-year-old Emma felt sad when she could not join her friends to play sports. She used a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination. Today, she’s using a walker more and able to participate in movement exercises thanks to BFit, a program her parents discovered at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Springfield, Mass. BFit is a unique power-based exercise program provided by UHart Professor of Physical Therapy Mary Gannotti and 15 of her students in partnership with clinicians from Shriners Hospitals—Springfield.

Watch the story of why UHart PT students are helping children like Emma.

Twice a week for 90 minutes, physical therapy (PT) students from the University’s College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions work with Emma and other BFit “athletes” on exercises and programs designed specifically for their physical needs. With the goal of helping each athlete gain strength, the PT students recommend specific sports-related activities including basketball, cycling, boxing or climbing walls, then guide them through the exercises, correcting their posture and balance while also motivating them.

“It is really great making that connection with the children and seeing their excitement when they accomplish something for the first time,” says PT major Jennifer Martins ’19, a native of Naugatuck, Conn.

Not only has Emma experienced positive physical changes, but her social skills have also improved.

“Emma loves coming here,” says Beth Waters, Emma’s mother. "She has made a lot of friends and it has made her want to do more things on her own."

UHart PT students continue to work on improving BFit which was developed by Gannotti; George Gorton, director of Research, Planning, and Business Development at Shriners Hospitals for Children—Springfield; and Denise Gloekler, director of Rehabilitation and the Motion Analysis Center at Shriners Hospitals for Children— Springfield. The students are creating a manual that will enable other physical therapists to replicate the program. And, with evidence that Emma is far from the only child who has had great success through BFit, Gannotti and Gorton are applying for a grant to launch BFit programs around the country.

Shriners Hospitals for Children provides specialized care to children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate, regardless of the families’ ability to pay. For more information, please visit shrinershospitalsforchildren.org.

The Institute for Translational Research, a public scholarship and research organization in the University’s College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions, supported the BFit pilot program. The Institute “translates" scientific results into relevant outcomes for community and the professions. To learn more visit www.hartford.edu/enhp/community/itr.