Young patients at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach build confidence through scuba-diving lesson

Ariana Gastelum/Signal Tribune<br><strong> The Handicapped Scuba Association provided a scuba-diving lesson to patients at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach on Saturday, Aug. 11</strong>
Ariana Gastelum
Editorial Intern

The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) taught a scuba-diving lesson to pediatric rehabilitation patients on Saturday, Aug. 11 at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach (MCHLB), 2801 Atlantic Ave. The lesson took place in an indoor rehabilitation pool on the hospital campus.
HSA is an international nonprofit organization focused on improving the physical and social well-being of people with disabilities through the sport of scuba diving. Instructors Jan Tunnicliff and Denise Dowd introduced the scuba diving with a lesson on using an underwater breathing apparatus. Mariana Sena, a recreational therapist in the Pediatric Inpatient Rehabilitation department at MCHLB, also participated.
The rehabilitation department offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and recreational therapy. In addition to these services, they design unique and comprehensive treatment programs such as the scuba lesson. Past events included sailing with the US Sailing Center, flying around Long Beach with the California Flight Center and horseback riding with B&B Stables in Cerritos. “Different children participate in the program,” Sena said. “It depends what [the patient’s] level is. The most important [consideration] that is required is their level of cognitive abilities so they could comprehend the gist of what is expected of them.”
The scuba lesson is different from MCHLB’s other events in that the water allows patients with disabilities including spina bifida (a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings), brain injuries, neuromuscular disorders and other conditions to move with less difficulty, boosting their confidence and self esteem, according to Sena. “There is no gravity, so they are able to have more freedom,” Sena noted. “Most of them have difficulty walking on land, and here they are able to exercise and walk in the water. It gives them a totally different experience that they normally wouldn’t have.”
Maria Gutierrez is the mother of 14-year-old Enrique, who participated in the scuba lesson. “They first came into the pool area in their braces and wheelchairs,” she said. “But when they are in the water, you don’t see (the braces and wheelchairs). They are on the same plane field.”
Enrique is diagnosed with VATER syndrome, a combination of birth defects. “V” stands for abnormalities of vertebral or spine, “A” for anal atresia, “E” for esophageal atresia with tracheo-esophageal fistula and “R” for Radial or Renal problems. When he was first given the invitation to participate in the scuba lesson, Enrique was very excited, according to Gutierrez. “He had never done anything like scuba diving before,” Gutierrez said. “He learned how to swim recently in our own pool– about three or four weeks ago. Perfect timing.” Gutierrez describes her son’s progressive actions as miracles. “When I was told that he wasn’t going to be able to survive when he was born, and then that he would never be able to walk, I don’t think there are words that can describe every time he does something,” she explained. “Years ago, I would never have believed this was possible.”
Sena described the overall event as “a wonderful experience for the kids.” She added, “It shows that if they really put their mind to it, their disability shouldn’t keep them from doing what most of us are able to do.”

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