Innovations in medical technology are changing the way people live their lives. The improvements in both medicine and devices is significantly increasing the quality of life for both patients and their families. Mark Lagunowich, Sales Director at Sparta Systems, Inc. has a son, Matt Lagunowich, age 23, who was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). In this blog post, Mark answers some questions about the impact medical innovation has had on his son’s quality of life over the past 23 years.
Q: What is Cerebral Palsy?
Mark L: Cerebral Palsy means a lot of things. Fundamentally, a person with CP suffered a brain injury before birth. The injury makes it difficult for the brain to tell a person’s muscles how to move. While the condition can get worse, there is no chance it is going to get better. Most people with Cerebral Palsy have some kind of motor disability that impacts their ability to walk or speak. Some people with CP have such minor impairment that you might not know they were affected
Q: Exactly how is Matt affected by CP?
Mark L: During the birthing process, Matt suffered a brain injury that affected his motor skills. Matt’s condition is classified at spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. In his case, that means he does not have the ability to walk or speak. While he needs help with everything from dressing to feeding, he is a smart kid and we are blessed that he doesn’t suffer from any seizures or life threatening conditions. A lot of families have kids that are much more significantly affected.
Q: When Matt was younger, what was the technology used to help him carry out his daily life routine?
Mark L: Up until Matt was 4 years old, he did not have a wheelchair. Other kids at that age are very active. Parents constantly chase their kids and have to lock up drawers and cabinets to keep the kids from getting into things they shouldn’t. We never had to wonder where Matt was or if he was up to no good. Unless we picked him up and moved him, he was right in the same place we left him. When he got his first wheelchair, he had independence for the first time. He could control where he wanted to go. Imagine a four year old learning to drive… inside your house. Until he learned to maneuver the chair in tight spaces, he ran into doors and walls all the time. We had to keep plenty of spackle and wood putty on hand to fix the walls but the independence the chair gave him was worth all of the holes in the walls.
Q: How does he communicate with you and your family and friends?
When he was younger, Matt pointed at things and we played a kind of guessing game to figure out what he wanted. It was slow and frustrating to him. People outside of our immediate family rarely understood what he wanted. Medical technology helped here as well. He has used several versions of touch screen assistive communication devices where he can create sentences by pressing picture buttons. When he is done creating the message, a synthesized voice “speaks” what Matt wants to tell us. He currently uses an iPad to help him express his thoughts and feelings. Imagine if you were trapped inside your body and couldn’t tell people what you wanted or how you felt. The talking devices enable Matt what he wants to do and to tell me when he his happy.
Q: How has the technology helped him succeed at home? in school? In the community?
Mark L: When Matt was younger and up until age 22, he attended a special needs school. He now goes to a day program where he goes shopping and bowling and does all kinds of other things in the community with his peers with similar physical and mental disabilities. When my wife investigated these programs, they made it clear Matt had to be able to independently move and communicate to be admitted. The wheelchair and his speech device allow him to do those things.
Matt is very social, and not being able to get out of the house and be with his friends would have a significantly negative impact on his quality of life. In fact, he gets worried when it snows outside because that might mean he will not get out of the house and see his friends that day.
Q: Due to technology advances/innovations, what are some things that he is doing now that you thought you might never see in his lifetime?
Mark L: Most people I know have some family or friend who contends with a major medical issue. Some people benefit from advanced drugs and biologics. In our case, it is medical devices and technology that makes it possible for Matt to participate in the community and go everywhere with our family. We have made trips to New York City, Washington DC and California. Matt loves zoos and museums and going to the movies. Medical technology means that kids – and adults – like Matt are not institutionalized the way they were 50 years ago. He can go most places that he wants and enjoys time with his friends just like everybody else.
With the advancement in the assisted communication devices he is now able to express his emotions through his words. In the past, due to the complexity of the devices, he was much more factual about things based on the complexity of the communication device or the time it took to communicate the words. Now he talks about things he’s interested in, things that are on his mind right in the moment. He is now able to take the time to put his thoughts together as he types the words and I think a contributing factor is the ease of use of the technology.
To learn more about how medical technology advances have contributed to Matt Lagunowich’s quality of life, view this video.