Simon Lieffers is “a very busy boy,” says his mother, Cara. At 2 1/2 years old, he’s obsessed with trucks and tools like many kids his age — but he’s also fascinated by things most grownups don’t consider fun. “He wants to mow the lawn and vacuum the house with us,” laughs Cara. “He really wants to help and please.”
Simon has been surprising his family since he was born. After 37 weeks of a normal, healthy pregnancy, Cara noticed that her previously active baby had stopped moving. “Something just didn’t feel right,” she remembers. After being rushed to the hospital, she learned that her placenta had begun to die. Yet when Simon was successfully delivered with a Cesarean section, he “seemed fine,” she says. “We thought we’d gotten a happy ending.”
Getting answers and moving forward
But at his 4-month checkup, Simon’s pediatrician was concerned that the baby favored his left hand and recommended that the family see a neurologist. “We were panicking and tried to stay off Google,” says Cara. When the inevitable lure of the internet proved too hard for Cara and her husband, Andrew, to resist, “We worried that his symptoms meant he might have cerebral palsy,” she says.
An MRI scan at Boston Children’s Hospital revealed that Simon, then 6 months old, had experienced a significant stroke while he was still in his mother’s womb. While the news was shocking, it provided the family with answers about their son’s health — and gave them the encouragement to keep moving forward. “We had to accept that we would never know exactly why this happened, but that Simon is here now and he’s healthy,” says Cara.
Being optimistic about stroke recovery
And there has been much to be optimistic about, according to Dr. Miya Bernson-Leung, a neurologist in the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center. “Dr. Bernson-Leung told us that Simon’s abilities didn’t match the damage shown in his MRI images,” says Cara. “We didn’t know what to expect because he was so young, but he was doing really well.”
Along with Dr. Bernson-Leung, Simon benefits from regular visits with occupational therapist Julie Malloy and physiatrist Dr. David Fogelman. “We don’t think Simon would be doing nearly as well without his team at Boston Children’s,” says Cara. Because Simon never crawled, his parents weren’t sure that he would ever walk — but today he’s toddling around, as active as can be. “He keeps us on our toes,” says Cara.
Making strides after neonatal stroke
Simon’s greatest challenge is with his right hand, which was affected by the stroke. Constraint-induced movement therapy with Malloy — which involves placing his unaffected left arm in a cast to encourage him to use his weakened limb more often — has helped him make what his parents call incredible progress. And while he’s still receiving speech therapy, he’s speaking in complete sentences. “He’s on track with his milestones, if not a little ahead of his peers,” says his mom, who attributes his progress to the power of prayer and his dedicated clinical team.
Indeed, at a recent visit with Malloy, Simon can’t stop beaming as he works to push a ball through a basketball hoop, grasp a colorful rubber frog, and knock magnetized animal heads off the hallway wall. “He’s just improving so much,” Cara marvels as she and his paternal grandmother, Deb, cheer him on.
But Simon takes it all in stride. “Hey, buddy, can you make the frog bounce?” asks Malloy.
“Sure!” he grins, reaching for it. “No big deal!”
Get more answers from the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center.
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