Brian’s Story

Not every nine-year-old will pick “steak dinner” as their special birthday meal, but anyone who’s met Brian knows to expect the unexpected from this bright, technology-loving boy. Brian, who has cerebral palsy, came to ChildServe’s pediatric rehabilitation unit after having a back surgery called SDR at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“SDR surgery is the short name for selective dorsal rhizotomy,” said Brian. “The doctors looked at my spine, found the nerves in my spinal cord making my legs tight, and cut them to reduce the spasticity.”

Brian was able to walk before the surgery, but his family went ahead with SDR to help him in several key areas.

“The goal of SDR was to help Brian develop a more natural gait and eliminate long term hip dysplasia caused by one of his legs being longer than the other,” said his mom, Suzy. “This is a result of one leg carrying more of his body weight for a long period of time.”

The first few days of recovering from spinal surgery can feel like taking a big step backward. As the brain relearns how to communicate with the body through different neural pathways, weak muscles and poor coordination are an expected part of the process. Intensive therapy is required to help kids like Brian maximize recovery and set the stage to reach new goals.

For Brian’s family, who have partnered with ChildServe’s outpatient programs since Brian was five, transitioning to ChildServe’s inpatient rehabilitation program to recover from SDR surgery was the perfect fit.

“Coming out of surgery, all of Brian’s muscles were very weak,” said Suzy.  “He couldn’t stand even a few seconds, and had lots of soreness and stiffness. When we arrived at ChildServe, he immediately began physical and occupational therapy twice each day to make sure he had a good foundation for new movements and learning to access muscles he didn’t previously have access to.”

Brian’s therapy team started out by working with him on basic skills like maintaining good balance and standing on an uneven surface before moving on to more complicated movements. As he mastered one skill, his team continued to introduce new challenges, while putting a special focus on what activities sounded most interesting to Brian.

“His therapists were great about asking him, “What do YOU want to work on?” said Suzy.  “One day he said “I want to ride a bike!” – so they grabbed an adaptive bike where he could be strapped in. Some of his favorite activities involved Caribou, ChildServe’s facility dog. From playing fetch and taking walks, they were able to incorporate Caribou into many activities.”

As he regained skills and strength over the course of three weeks at ChildServe, Brian’s parents loved seeing his personality return.

“Brian is extremely intelligent, goofy and intuitive. He’s one of the most determined kids I’ve ever met,” said his dad, James. “In the weeks after his surgery, his confidence, stamina and mobility all improved. He’s back to being ‘’my boy,” and I’m grateful to the whole team at ChildServe for helping him.”

“Our therapists and nursing team did a wonderful job including our family in the rounding meetings so we felt informed about Brian’s care, and communicated with our outpatient team for a smooth transition when it was time for us to move home,” said Suzy. ”We also have to give a special shout to all the support staff at ChildServe, including the kitchen team who helped order a special steak for his birthday and even followed our family recipe!”

“Having a facility like this in Des Moines is really incredible,” said James. “Not every town has a ChildServe that can open their doors to the recovery aspect of a spinal surgery. Along with having an expert team, I’m proud of the hard work Brian put into his recovery. We wouldn’t have gotten here without his determination.”


ChildServe improves the health and well-being of nearly 5,800 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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