What is cerebral palsy?
‘Cerebral palsy’ describes a group of chronic conditions that affect body movement and muscle coordination. It’s caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually when a baby is developing in the womb, or during or shortly after birth.
If your child has cerebral palsy, they may not be able to walk, talk, eat or play in the same way other kids can.
Cerebral palsy is not a disease or illness, nor is it contagious. What’s more, it doesn't get worse. Children with cerebral palsy will always have the condition. However, education, therapy and applied technology can help them to lead productive lives.
What are the symptoms?
Typically, a person with cerebral palsy has difficulty with their motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination. Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, symptoms will include one or more of the following:
- Muscle tightness or spasm
- Involuntary movement
- Problems with walking and mobility in general
- Abnormal sensation and perception
- Impaired sight, hearing or speech
What can be done to help?
While cerebral palsy cannot be cured, there are specialist treatments that can help to alleviate the symptoms.
For example, selective dorsal rhizotomy – or SDR – is a surgical procedure performed on a cerebral-palsy sufferer’s lower spinal cord. Electrical stimulation is used to identify the nerves that are contributing to excessive muscle tone, a condition of cerebral palsy and spasticity, and these are then destroyed.
For people with cerebral palsy who, like Susanna, cannot walk, SDR offers the hope that one day they’ll be able to do so.
What are the different types of cerebral palsy?
There are three main types:
- Spastic cerebral palsy (stiff and difficult movement)
- Athetoid cerebral palsy (involuntary and uncontrolled movement)
- Ataxic cerebral palsy (disturbed sense of balance and depth perception)
A child or adult may also suffer from mixed cerebral palsy, which combines two or all three of the above.
What causes cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy’s direct cause is brain damage that occurs before, during or shortly after birth. This damage falls into two main categories:
- Failure of a young brain to develop properly (developmental brain malformation)
- Neurological damage to a developing brain. Some 10-15% of cerebral palsy cases are the result of recognised brain injuries. These are caused by factors like infection (for example, meningitis), bleeding into the brain (intraventricular haemorrhage), and lack of oxygen to the brain
To discover the exact cause of a child’s brain damage, a doctor will need to review their medical history and conduct extensive tests. Even then, the cause – and what could have been done to prevent it – may remain uncertain.
Could a medical mistake be to blame?
Medical mistakes are responsible for thousands of cerebral palsy cases. However, it’s virtually impossible for parents, on their own, to decide if such an error is to blame for their own child’s condition. They’ll need help from legal and medical experts, and even then may not get a decisive answer.
There are several quick and easy ways to donate to Help Susanna Walk. You can also read Susanna’s moving story, which is inspiring hundreds to support her. Or see pictures of her as she’s grown and battled her misfortune.