Premature Baby Born With Hydrocephalus and Cerebral Palsy “Takes Off” With Otteroo

Maggie, now four, was born two months early. Doctors’ prognosis was grim, but her parents were determined to do all they could. Her mom Brooke tells us more.

What did you do to help Maggie thrive?

We put her in therapies and really tried to give her the best chance that we could, and against all odds she’s taken off. We’re very fortunate, very blessed and she’s very strong. Even with all that, we’ve always had two issues: bath time and the beach experience. For her, she didn’t really get to enjoy it to the extent other kids did. She was always in our arms. She doesn’t have neck and upper back control, so she can’t sit in a regular bath seat or hold herself up in a pool. Even though that may not have been what Otteroo was designed for, it actually fit Maggie’s needs perfect.

How did you first discover the Otteroo?

When we first saw it, I thought it was a joke. Her therapist showed it to me to do in pool therapy. She was like, “Have you ever thought about this?” Maggie loves water, so why don’t we try aquatherapy? I said, “That looks like child abuse. What are you doing to that kid?” We joked about it, and then I said, “Okay, I’m going to order one. If you think it’ll work, we’ll get it.”

Maggie doesn’t ever really have independent time, and for the first time she could kick away from us and she could be fully independent and do what she wanted to do, which was really refreshing.

What was Maggie’s reaction?

As soon as her feet hit the water, and she realized she was supported, it was very amazing to us to watch because for the first time, there wasn’t a parent or therapist or big, bulky machine holding her. Maggie doesn’t ever really have independent time, and for the first time she could kick away from us and she could be fully independent and do what she wanted to do, which was really refreshing.

Did she like it?

With a nonverbal child, we have to use specific technology to even gauge where she’s at positively, and if her actions are purposeful. But, when we could say, “Go to this family member,” and she would kick off and go to this family member, or we could say, “Do this or that,” so we got to really see what she is capable of. She wants to do these things, she’s driven to do these things; we have to find more ways to make sure she can do this.

I know she’s going to be safe. It’s going to keep her head in a position. It has really given her a degree of independence we hadn’t seen, which was amazing to us.

Do you feel like she’s safe in it?

With a special needs kid, I’m a helicopter mom 100%. You feel like you have to make sure all the adults and kids know that Maggie can’t pull her head back up if it goes down. But, with the Otteroo that’s not an issue. She can pull it every way that she goes in the Otteroo. I know she’s going to be safe. It’s going to keep her head in a position. It has really given her a degree of independence we hadn’t seen, which was amazing to us.

It’s not like this is the first thing that we’ve tried in the water with her. This is the only thing that works, because so many of them are bulky, they’re uncomfortable or they’re made for kids who need assistance, but that they do have that neck and back control. This is the one that we found that can fully give Maggie independence.

What kind of changes have you noticed in her?

She can stand straight up in the pool. We’re like, “Okay, if you can stand straight up and walk in the pool, you can do this outside of the pool!” She’s bathing independently. Some people might be like, “Okay, you have a four year old, that’s normal.” No, not for us, because Maggie wasn’t standing. Prior to this summer, the goals were to be weight bearing, but that was, again, with assistance and equipment. I’ve always seen water aerobics and aquatherapy, and never fully understood what that meant, but it takes so much of the pressure off your body and allows you to work those muscles until they’re ready to do it outside of the water. It’s not like this is the first thing that we’ve tried in the water with her. This is the only thing that works, because so many of them are bulky, they’re uncomfortable or they’re made for kids who need assistance, but that they do have that neck and back control. This is the one that we found that can fully give Maggie independence.

Is the pool the only place you use it?

I’m pregnant, so we can’t exactly do a co-bath like we used to. So, we put her in the Otteroo in the tub, and it helped me, it helped my back, it helped the entire situation. Also, on days after we come home from therapy, she needs to be like an athlete. She needs an ice bath. Instead, being able to put her in the tub independently and put Epsom salt and give her a warm bath and relax her muscles, we’re seeing that she’s sleeping through the night now. Whereas before, she would have cramps from the intense workout. Now she’s having the chance to relax, so she can rest. She doesn’t have the same soreness that she had prior.

It’s very, very effective and, like I said, independence is the biggest word for kids like this and it makes that a possibility.

What else do you want people to know about Otteroo?

I know that Otteroo probably wasn’t originally designed for kids with handicaps, with special needs, but if it doesn’t work for anyone else, it fits a select group of people like a glove. It’s very, very effective and, like I said, independence is the biggest word for kids like this and it makes that a possibility.

Brooke loves Otteroo so much that she purchased a bulk order so that the Yellow Door, a long-term stay facility for families near University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, will always have some on hand for the special needs kids staying with them.

Julie Forbes