Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Australia, kids with Duchenne muscular dystrophy learn to dive with sharks in unique hydrotherapy program

From The Townsville Bulletin in Australia. In the picture, Steven Patrick of Cairns, Australia tests the waters at Reef HQ helped by recreation officer Anthony Clifford.

A brave group of youngsters will return to school next week with a story to make all their friends jealous.

The 12 children, who live with a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, took part in a four-day world-first program where they learnt to dive and used their new skills to swim with sharks at Reef HQ.

The program has been designed by charity MontroseAccess and gives its participants speech, occupational and physiotherapy.

Access physiotherapist Sue Nicklin, who is the program's brainchild, said the course was affectionately known as "Shark Bait Kids".

"Hydrotherapy is a massively important part of the program for kids with Duchenne muscular dystrophy," she said.

"But instead of regular drills in a pool, we decided to make it more exciting for our clients and two years ago we started teaching them diving (in Brisbane).

"At the end of their training program, they get to dive in a special location with marine life.

"The experience is life changing."

Children from around the Townsville, Cairns and Mackay areas signed up for the program and have been learning how to breathe using air tanks as well as how to control their movements under water.

"These kids spend a lot of time in therapy, while their school mates are experiencing other things," Ms Nicklin said.

"For once, these children get to return to school for the new year and say 'I went scuba diving, what did you do'?"

Ms Nicklin said the program was being used as a study on the respiratory benefits of hydrotherapy for children with the condition, as well as showing how it could lift their confidence, mental well-being and social interaction.

She said MontroseAccess was still searching for Townsville businesses to offer financial support to ensure the program could continue.