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Water as Therapy in Stow… Sept. 21 2016

By Ann Needle

Kaylin with her green  band and instructor Laura Diamond         Ann Needle
Kaylin with her green band and instructor Laura Diamond Ann Needle

Although she’s moving out of town,  Kaylin Norris will likely stay in the memory of Stow’s Laura Diamond. As an aquatic therapist, Diamond guided the 10-year-old Kaylin from the effects of a stroke on her left side before she was born to what Diamond described as a young woman “probably ahead of many of her peers in terms of water safety skills.”

As Kaylin and her family make the move from Stow to North Carolina, her prognosis is excellent. “She can swim the length of a pool, while most 4- and 5-year- olds can’t,” Diamond remarked.

Understanding what Kaylin achieved after 2 years of water-based therapy begins 10 years ago, when she had a stroke at birth, Diamond explained. Kaylin’s lower extremity surgery at age seven-and-a-half years triggered Kaylin’s mom, Susan, to bring her daughter to Diamond at Concord’s Beede Swim and Fitness Center, which has a rare, 90-degree therapy pool perfectly fit for helping clients with limited range of motion and tension in their bodies.

At that point, Kaylin had just come through a calf lengthening and foot tendon transfer surgery, to help alleviate the tension that comes with hemiplegia (early stroke), Diamond said. Kaylin had just had her post-surgery cast removed before her first visit with Diamond, and the resulting pain meant, “the first time I saw her, she screamed for an hour. She had pain, she was afraid and she didn’t want to be touched.”
Kaylin was having trouble getting up from a chair, unable to bear weight on her surgery side. There was decreased function in her arm, and an ongoing glitch in her gait. Diamond reported that the therapy goals for Kaylin were to improve that gait, “stretch what ‘s tight, strengthen what’s weak, improve symmetry of movement, and improve motor control.”

While aquatic therapy is perfect for involving the whole body in healing, Diamond pointed to one remaining issue — “Kaylin didn’t know how to swim.” And, Diamond said she knew she would have to help Kaylin overcome her anxiety and cognitive issues, along with her dislike of tests. Fortunately, Diamond also is a certified water safety instructor, outlining how she successfully combined the goals of teaching Kaylin water safety while conducting the therapy she needed with aquatic games.

After a year of aquatic therapy, not only was Kaylin physically improving, but she also passed her  yellow band-level swim test at Beebe, successfully accomplishing a number of tasks such as treading water for 30 seconds and floating on her back for several seconds, Diamond said. Some months later Kaylin advanced to pass her green band test, “And boy, was she proud.”

These days, the former Center School student’s physical challenges are not always evident, though Diamond mentioned she still walks with slight hitches in her step and the positioning of her hand is different than with most children.

Life In the Water
Kaylin’s success is a natural result of the many years Diamond has spent cultivating better lives with her work in the water. Now running her own private practice, Diamond distinguishes herself from other physical therapists. “Unlike some PTs who do aquatics a bit as part of their practices, I came from an aquatic background. I know how to handle people in the water,” Diamond said.

Her work began as an aquatics director at the YWCA in Boston, followed by training in aquatic therapy at two Boston hospitals. The irony: How tough Diamond recalled it was to work through her master’s degree in PT and its focus on aquatics, given  she has a lung condition that sometimes makes it tough to breath normally and can slow her down.

Still, Diamond reflected on the inspiration she takes from many of her clients, who tend to be both children and adults who, as with Kaylin, face ongoing physical challenges and/or chronic pain, and “just can’t achieve their goals on land anymore. Water provides faster recovery, easy weight bearing, less pressure on joints, and maintenance of fitness.”

There are other aspects to this success. On her web site () Diamond posted what she called one of the most treasured mementos of her career. It is a note a lifeguard delivered to her on the pool deck, and it stated, “I wanted you to know how touched I was to watch you with the little boy in the therapy pool. Your gentleness and patience touched my heart — you are a blessing.” Diamond continued, “When I looked up, the woman who wrote it stood and waved to me from afar.”As it turned out, she added, the writer is the mom of an adult child with special needs.

More information on aquatic therapy is available at Diamond’s book and DVD “Get In the Water!” are also available there, which work together to help demonstrate some of the exercises Diamond uses with clients.