The great athletes of sports are revered in part for their athletic prowess; the results of genetic abilities and endless training combined are often unbelievable. These achievements are relative, however, and we are periodically reminded of that fact across the escalating levels of physical competition. A hockey goal in the final seconds of the semi-final game of the 1980 Winter Olympics can be as much a miracle as an 8-year-old girl from Hood River defying the preconceived notions of her Cerebral Palsy and running 10 laps alongside her peers during Westside Elementary’s Wildcat Chase. The latter’s story is just as compelling, too.
Bailey Strong was adopted at 3 months old by Hood River residents Jeff and Rhonda Strong. As she aged, it became apparent that her physical development was delayed.
“Shortly after she came home, we noticed that some of her development wasn’t typical,” said Rhonda Strong. “We did an MRI, started by seeing an eye doctor and learned she had Cerebral Palsy. It’s such an umbrella term; you see some people who are wheelchair bound or have feeding tubes, but with Bailey it plays out on the right side of her body. The left side of her brain was damaged, believed to be due to a stroke in utero.”
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood, the symptoms of which vary between people and over time. Exact causes are often unknown, but the majority of cases occur during pregnancy. When Bailey was diagnosed, the outlook on her condition was poor; doctors cautioned her parents that developmentally, she may be severely and permanently delayed.
“It was about when she was a year old that we had the full results and explanation,” said Rhonda. “It was then that the doctors said she may never walk, she may never talk. It was pretty bleak, but our approach was just, ‘Okay, whatever this is we’ll figure it out, and Bailey has just done remarkably well.’”
Bailey’s life became a constant stream of physical therapy, treatment plans and doctor visits. Her muscles were tight and constrained, limiting her physical capabilities on the right side. She underwent various forms of therapy through the years and continues to do so; the Strong family makes weekly visits to Kidsense, a pediatric therapy center, and to Darla Kroll, a private physical therapist, both in Hood River. It was, in their minds, this early and consistent therapy that led to Bailey’s success.
“The brain has an amazing amount of plasticity, especially at a young age,” said Rhonda. “If you get therapy going it can help to rewire, which I believe helped her. She can walk, she can talk.”
While therapy was a boost to Bailey’s physical abilities, CP kept her limited, regardless. She simply could not do what someone without CP could, such as her older brother, Braden. Despite this ever-present challenge, her attitude never faltered; she triumphed through life by discovering her own ways of progressing.
“Just a great attitude,” said Jeff Strong. “That’s always been a strength of hers, she remains upbeat and patient about things. She did better with her recovery from surgery because of her personality.”
“She’s always figured out a way to make it work,” said Rhonda. “If her brother can swing, she’s going to swing.”
Swing she did. During the interview, Bailey demonstrated her one-handed swinging technique from a trapeze bar attached to the family’s backyard playset. She gripped the bar in her left hand, which her dad jokingly defined as “ripped,” and swung effortlessly around. Then, with the confidence that her recent surgery granted her, she took the bar in two hands and performed the same swing, showcasing the progress she’s made in spite of her condition. When asked how she felt after having the surgery done, Bailey laughed and said a single word.
Her surgery was a seven-hour long procedure at Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland that saw her right foot, leg, arm and hand operated on. Her femur was realigned to improve function, she had ligament work on her lower leg, a tendon transfer in her foot to straighten it, ligament adjustment in her arm and hand to enable better mobility and another tendon transfer in her hand. One simple result of the surgery? Bailey can close her hand into a fist, which opens all types of motor possibilities, the most important of which she explained.
“I can dress my dolls and Barbies now because I can grab things,” said Bailey.
This surgery is likely the first of several in Bailey’s life, and her therapy will continue for the foreseeable future. She wears an orthotic cast on her right leg during the day for support, but beyond those aspects she maintains a life whose daily habits and activities are indistinguishable from any other child. She roller skates, she ran track last spring, she can run and swim and play as any child can. From the solemn words of a doctor saying she may never walk or talk, to running laps alongside her peers and swinging with her brother in the backyard, it seems Bailey is set to overcome the limits of her condition, all smiles throughout.
“Each thing she does is a celebration for us,” said Rhonda. “She’s a walking miracle.”