Three Countries Unite to Bring Hope to Children with Cerebral Palsy
On March 25th, eight North Koreans left Pyongyang and arrived in Dandong, China for their first training session in Bobath Therapy. They were received by team members of Ignis Community, and after spending the night in Dandong, boarded a plane the next day for Shanghai, China.
The following Tuesday night Stephen Yoon, Ignis Community’s Rehabilitation specialist, greeted them at the Shanghai airport and escorted them to the training site. Ignis Community’s South Korea board member, president of the Seoul Rehabilitation Hospital, traveled with seven South Korean medical professionals to provide joint training in Bobath Therapy for Chinese and North Koreans at the Shanghai Yang Guang Rehabilitation Hospital.
At first, obstacles had to be overcome between the North and the South. Regulations made it difficult to socialize outside of official training sessions. Skepticism and distrust were high. But after the initial training sessions on Bobath Therapy, the doctors from the two countries quickly came together with the united purpose of bringing hope to children with cerebral palsy. The North Korean doctors were grateful for the high quality of instruction from the South Koreans, and the South Koreans were impressed with the North Korean doctors’ knowledge and experience. Barriers between the two soon began melting away.
Bobath training in Shanghai will continue for a total of ten days. It is proving invaluable for the North Korean doctors to experience hands-on instruction, expanding upon what they have been received from Ignis Community in Pyongyang. The lectures have broadened the doctors’ horizons, increasing the doctors’ levels of knowledge and expertise on cerebral palsy.
Since 2012, Ignis Community has been training a cohort of doctors in North Korea at the Pyongyang Medical School Hospital. Training has included lectures and hands-on demonstrations in therapy for children with cerebral palsy and autism (ASD). The basic principles of Bobath and Neuro-Developmental Therapy (NDT) as well as DIR Floortime Therapy have been taught while treating pediatric patients with cerebral palsy and ASD.
Now North Korea is implementing treatment and education for children with developmental disabilities in the medical university system for the first time thanks to new training programs in Rehabilitation Medicine and Special Education. Initially, the local hospital administrator in Pyongyang did not acknowledge the existence of developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and autism, in the nation. But as patients came to be treated in the hospital, the need to treat pediatric developmental disabilities was officially recognized.
In the fall of 2013, a ten-year-old girl came to Ignis through the Pyongyang Medical School Hospital. She was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia, a type of cerebral palsy that affects both arms and legs. Her life up to that point had been one of heartbreaking challenges. She couldn’t walk so her classroom teacher would strap her to her back and carry her to school every morning. At school her teacher would then strap her to her chair for her to remain seated and listen to the class lectures. This girl’s greatest dream at that time was simply to walk to school one day with the rest of her classmates. Once treatment for children with cerebral palsy began officially in 2013, she was finally able to receive medical care through the system.
After approximately eleven months of daily therapy, this girl realized her dream. She walked out of the hospital! A local news network broadcast team came and televised her discharge from the hospital. Today she is attending school with the rest of her classmates and has a new dream. Her dream is to become a rehab physician so that she can treat other kids like herself (from Discovering Joy: Ten Years in North Korea; www.joyinnorthkorea.com).
Thousands of children like her are waiting for medical treatment in North Korea. Many of them have never attended school but through Ignis’ therapy program for children with developmental disabilities, these children now have hope for a better future. From South Korea to China and on to the DPRK, three countries are coming together to provide children with cerebral palsy proper medical treatment and thus a chance for an improved quality of life!