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Waking’ Michael Schwab

Therapy helps child fight Cerebral Palsy

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

Michael Schwab smiles shyly as his mother, Rachel, describes the strides he has made following his hyperbaric oxygen therapy in late summer.

News staff writer
October 27

It has been a long, difficult journey already for young Michael Schwab, even though he is only 3 years old, but he is a cheerful trouper. He squirms and smiles as his mom, Rachel, feeds him juice through a “G-tube” in his abdomen. (“It’s called a MicKey Button,” she says.) He also breathes through a tube, a “trach,” which he’s done since he was three months old.

“We’ve always had to feed him through a tube,” Rachel says. “But since we got back he’s been eating a little by mouth.”

Rachel and Michael recently returned home to Pine Grove after a month in San Bernardino, Calif., where Michael received hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment lately found to help children with cerebral palsy. But insurance companies consider it experimental, so most don’t cover it.

“It has 13 approved uses, but CP isn’t one of them,” Rachel says. “We had to get a grant — and do a bunch of fundraising — to pay for it.

The therapy is giving the family hope for a better life for Michael, whose problems started at birth.

“He was born at 29 weeks after a very complicated twin pregnancy; he weighed a pound and a half,” Rachel says. “His twin, Gabriel, only lived a couple of days.”

Michael spent his first four months in neonatal intensive care before going home, and Rachel said that though he continued to grow and get stronger, he wasn’t passing any of the normal baby milestones. Then, at 11 months, he started having seizures.

“He was diagnosed with ‘severe spastic quadriplegia,’ a type of cerebral palsy,” she says. “And the neurologist said, ’It will only get worse.’ Well, I didn’t like that attitude at all. I’ve seen people with cerebral palsy get better.”

Michael was put on medication right away, but it only made him sleepy all the time and didn’t do much to help the seizures, which were happening about two or three times a day. Rachel looked into alternative therapies and decided to try a less-invasive, naturopathic treatment called craniosacral therapy. It was a good move — after the third session, Michael was seizure-free for two days, and after the sixth session, he stopped having seizures altogether.

It was about a year ago that Rachel found out about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).

“It’s kind of like deep sea diving — he goes into a pressurized chamber, and has a hood on, and is breathing 100 percent oxygen,” Rachel explains. “The chamber simulates the pressure at 15 feet below the surface. The pressure pushes oxygen into parts of the brain that aren’t damaged but are just ‘sleeping’ because they aren’t getting any oxygen. It ‘wakes them up’ and the patient can learn to use parts of the body he hasn’t used before.”

After a month of treatments, the family has already seen results. “The first thing you could see was that he was getting stronger — his trunk muscles were stronger,” Rachel says. “He also started moving his fingers, which he’s never done before, and he’s been able to take a few bites by mouth, which he’s never been able to do.”

The results of HBOT have been so encouraging that the Schwabs are anxious to have more treatments for him, but that means more grant-writing and fund-raising.

“We still need to raise more money,” Rachel says. “We are going into winter and yard sales won’t be an option.” (See sidebar for details.

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