Beyond Traditional Therapy at Akron Children’s Hospital

Bea Kovacova, physical therapy assistant at Akron Children’s Hospital, has seen first-hand the success of their aquatic therapy program in treating children with a range of diagnoses, from autism to Down syndrome, to cerebral palsy, to mitochondrial disease.

Bea has been with Akron Children’s Hospital for more than 20 years, training up to 16 physical therapists in aquatic therapy. We spoke with Bea to learn more about how they are using their SwimEx 500 OTDW.

Water’s healing benefits

The SwimEx pool was installed at Akron Children’s Hospital in late 2004. In addition to using the pool for aquatic therapy treatments, Bea educates families about the many health benefits of being active in the pool, especially at a young age.

“I grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, where being in the water was part of everyone’s lifestyle,” Bea said. “There is so much awareness of the health benefits of water throughout Europe. Growing up, we went to the pool all winter long – there were some beautiful indoor and outdoor pool facilities. I miss those facilities, it’s hard to find that here in the United States.”

The SwimEx pool is located in a private area, allowing Bea to work with clients who might feel overwhelmed in a larger space and larger pool. The small size of the pool helps clients feel safe, and the private area is quiet and without other distractions. The benches with different heights and the varying water depths add to the versatility of the pool. Bea loves how the smooth paddlewheel current provides sensory benefits, plus it challenges clients as they progress. “The current has so many benefits, including helping children build their strength and balance,” Bea said.

Akron Children's Hospital aquatic therapy pool

Beyond traditional aquatic therapy

Over the years, Bea saw how the aquatic environment naturally encouraged communication. In 2018, she created the unique SPOT Aquatics Program – a collaboration across speech, physical, and occupational therapy that has been a success with many children. She got the idea from Dr. Bruce Becker’s book, Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy. The pool offered a new intervention opportunity that allowed children to relax and be more vocal. “Anxiety from so many medical treatments is often a challenge for children, and the pool gives them a different environment where they can be successful,” Bea said.

Bea is a forward-thinking aquatic PTA who always has her clients’ best interests at the forefront of everything she does. She is not afraid to try new ideas and has an incredible passion for her work. She loves to encourage and help others interested in learning more about aquatics.

In 2019, Bea connected with the team at Swim Angelfish, and invited them to visit Akron Children’s Hospital. “They really opened my eyes to a new way of using aquatic therapy for children who have physical and sensory disorders,” she said. “For someone with a disability, it can be difficult to participate in physical activities. We teach them what they can expect from their own bodies in the pool so they can use a pool forever.” Aquatic therapy also provides continuous sensory input that is especially important for children with sensory processing difficulties.

Aquatic therapy program a success

Over the years, Bea has experienced so many successes with the aquatic therapy program. She worked with an 18-year-old student who suffered from hemiplegia following a car accident. The left side of his body was affected as well as his cognitive ability. His initial prognosis was that he wouldn’t be able to walk. Bea treated him for more than five years. She used the chair lift to get him in the SwimEx pool. Weekly sessions in the water helped him find muscles that were lost. Now he walks with a cane. “His mom and dad did everything to help support him in his journey, it was really beautiful how much he progressed,” Bea said. “I have a current patient with mitochondrial disease, he was unable to walk because of the weak muscles, and it was in the SwimEx pool where he first started to walk. He is now able to swim and take lessons.”

“We never thought the SwimEx pool would provide as many opportunities for such a variety of very carefully tailored aquatic sessions in the pediatric practice,” said Bea. “It is a pool that creates a successful environment for all ages, but especially for the toddlers and those that need private sessions. We were able to utilize all features like different depths, resistance, rails, ladder, sides for transfers and a hydraulic lift with all of our clients. We are grateful for such a good design. This pool isn’t just for athletes and adults – it is a hidden gem.”

~ Authored by Kristine Chochrek

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