They didn’t treat her like a kid; they treated her like the patient

Kariann Johnson, Family Member

Nine-year-old Autumn Leadingham was pretty excited to get an electric scooter from her grandfather on Christmas morning. But the excitement quickly faded when she took a spill that brought her to the emergency department at Bronson Methodist Hospital. Autumn learned she broke her ankle in two spots – on her growth plate and her tibia. Fortunately, she would not need surgery, but required a cast to ensure the bones healed properly.

Autumn’s care was transitioned to Dr. Mark Nikkel at Bronson Orthopedic & Joint Specialists in South Haven, where Autumn and her family live. She would require a cast for 13 weeks. Every three weeks, she would go see the doctor, have her cast removed for x-rays to make sure the bones were healing right, and then have a new cast put on.

“Everybody in Dr. Nikkel’s office did their best to make the process fun for Autumn,” says Kariann Johnson, Autumn’s mom. “Every time we got a new cast we got a different color or stripes.”

After 13 weeks in her cast, Autumn was cleared to start physical therapy at Bronson Rehabilitation Specialists in South Haven. She was really nervous to start physical therapy and was afraid of possibly hurting her ankle again. However, after meeting physical therapists Evan and Josiah, her attitude quickly changed.

“She really enjoys and looks forward to her physical therapy appointments,” says Kariann. “Evan and Josiah make physical therapy a game for Autumn. And they always ask her questions about school, what book she’s reading, if she enjoyed the movie they talked about the previous week… They make Autumn feel comfortable. The atmosphere and being in the Bronson Wellness Center has also encouraged Autumn to lead a healthier and more fit life – she asked if we could get a membership.”

One of the ‘games’ that the physical therapists play is called hot lava, where Evan or Josiah pretend part of the floor is hot lava and Autumn has to walk around without touching it. This helps her improve her balance by shifting her focus from trying to protect her ankle to trying to navigate the treacherous path. This has also helped Kariann come up with activities to do at home to help Autumn regain strength.

Kariann continued to say, “Everybody from start to finish has been amazing – from our first visit to the ER through physical therapy. Everybody we encountered treated Autumn as a patient instead of speaking to me like she wasn’t present in the room – they always asked her questions first and made sure she understood what was happening. They made her feel like a partner in her own care and a part of fixing the problem.”

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