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Super Aubrey

Super Aubrey

Aubrey Eckroth, 4, ties an imaginary red cape around her neck as Sanford Health physical therapist Jackie Mrachek asks her if she is ready for takeoff.

With a quick nod of Aubrey’s head, Mrachek picks the little blonde off the floor, holding her around her chest and tiny waist.

Mrachek runs around the therapy room, out the door and through the hospital hallways weaving Aubrey up and down like a roller coaster. She reminds Aubrey to hold her head up and extend her arms. Mrachek yells out “super Aubrey.”

Aubrey repeats loudly, “super Aubrey.”

Beginning her third year of physical, occupational and hydro-therapy for her cerebral palsy, Aubrey’s immediate goals are to strengthen the muscles of her legs and core and to reduce the muscle rigidity with massages, stretching and numerous therapeutic exercises.

Aubrey was born premature weighing 2.4 ounces. Her twin brother, Nathan, born at 2.2 ounces, lived only eight days. Aubrey displayed early signs of the disorder before she was diagnosed at 2 years old. The neurological disorder affects muscle control, coordination, muscle tone and posture.

“I don’t think we really had a chance to grieve a whole lot,” said Aubrey’s mom, Kristin. “We (with husband Jamie) had to stay strong. We had to keep going for Aubrey.”

That means traveling from Mandan to Bismarck four days a week for multiple physical, occupational and hydro-therapy sessions.

Making matters more complicated, Aubrey recently underwent a second hip surgery to correct the joint placement.

“Because she had a major surgery in July, we took several steps backwards,” Mrachek said. “Prior we were working on progressing her walking skills, working on her transitional movements and her standing abilities. But now we kind of start from square one with re-learning to sit and hand and knees positions,” Mrachek said.

“It’s a long road to recovery,” Kristin Eckroth said.

Through the hectic schedule of therapies at Sanford Health also maintained at home, Aubrey attacks them with a positive attitude.

“Our biggest blessing is that she is so happy,” Kristin Eckroth said. “Whatever it is she’ll find a way to make it fun. Her spirit, her attitude ... we’ve always said it comes down to (that) she has made us better people by far.”

With seven therapy sessions a week, Mrachek not only makes sure the therapies meet the expected goals for Aubrey’s success, but she also makes sure they are fun.

“It has to be work here, so we’d better make sure that the work is fun or it’s just going to be a butting of heads,” Mrachek said. “There is the importance of play, but making that play functional and making it productive.”

The Eckroths, who earlier this year became parents again with the birth of their daughter, Keira, follow through at home with Aubrey with therapeutic techniques and a home exercise program.

“We expect a lot of her,” Kristin Eckroth said. “ If there’s even a hint that she can do it, we expect her to do it.”

As Aubrey ages and continues to reach her goals for better mobility and independence, her parents also are preparing her for a best possible life in society.

“(At school) we want her to be treated as normally as possible,” Kristin Eckroth said. She acknowledges Aubrey will need help and adaptations, but she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her.

“Don’t pity her. She needs strength, she needs compassion, she needs positive reinforcement, but do not pity my child. Do not pity us. It’s not going to get her anywhere.”

With their infant daughter, they are witnessing her milestones of development they never experienced with Aubrey or had to work extremely hard with her to achieve.

“We definitely appreciate more of the little things that other people I’m sure take for granted ... the little milestones that she reaches,” Jamie Eckroth said.

Working and playing with Aubrey provides Mrachek an added insight into the 4-year-old.

“Her smile, her witty personality, her imagination, and her positive energy are magnetic. I believe it will be one of her many, great life skills,” Mrachek said. “Her ability to engage others with one smile, helps us to quickly look past her disability.”

“There’s a lot of personality in that little body,” Kristin Eckroth joked after a therapy session.

Reach Mike McCleary at 250-8206 or mike.mccleary@bismarcktribune.com.

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