Doctor visits, surgeries, and hospitals have been frequent and common for Tucker Wick of Mount Olive, Alabama. In fact, they all started the day he was born in February, 2007.
Tucker was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down. “When I was 26 weeks pregnant, I went in for a routine doctor’s appointment and my doctor noticed that something seemed wrong,” said Tucker’s mother, Christie. “We didn’t know the level or degree of spina bifida, but we did know he would need immediate care after birth.”
Christie was quickly referred to a specialist and found herself talking with doctors about a birth plan and the surgeries Tucker would need immediately after birth. “We knew he would quickly need to have surgery to close the opening on his back where his spine was outside of his body,” Christie said. “I ended up changing hospitals so that we could be closer to Children’s of Alabama, where he would almost immediately be taken for surgery.”
Less than 24 hours after he was born, Tucker was already having his first surgery at Children’s. Just four days later, he had a second surgery to insert a ventriculoperitoneal shunt in his brain to help drain spinal fluid that collects on his brain. Since then, Tucker has had numerous shunt revisions and several other surgeries, including a recent bladder reconstruction surgery. “He’s averaged a shunt revision surgery about every two and a half years,” Christie said. “But he has had a fairly quick recovery each time. And thankfully he’s continued to have many of the same doctors at Children’s since he was born. That makes going into the hospital each time not quite as scary for Tucker because he’s gotten to be comfortable with his doctors and nurses. They really have gotten to know him and are very sensitive and aware of his needs and how to ease his anxiety.”
Children’s has been able to help Tucker with his cognitive needs as well. Through scholarships provided by The Charity League, this past summer he participated in The Charity League Speech and Hearing Department’s language processing group. The intense two-week therapy session gave him an opportunity to work on giving and following complex multi-step directions, providing specific details and descriptions, building vocabulary, increasing reading comprehension skills and improving his ability to visualize information that is read or heard. “Importantly, this program enabled Tucker to work on these skills with same-age peers, providing great opportunities for making connections with others as well as the ability to practice these skills in an environment more natural—and fun—than individual therapy,” said Speech-Language Pathologist Brynna Benefield.
In addition to helping Tucker increase his language skills, the program provided his parents with training time to learn how to continue to work with him at home. Thanks to the program, Tucker’s speaking confidence has increased. “We definitely saw a difference in Tucker’s ability to process information after the group session,” Christie said. “Brynna, his speech therapist, was fabulous. And we received so much great information that we have been able to use at home. I don’t know what we would do without Children’s. Our experience with them has been phenomenal. They are so friendly and thoughtful and caring that they really feel like family.”