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Creative Therapy Helps Day Student

Physical therapist Erin Leach, left, and
occupational therapist Veronica Armellino
use a mechanical duck to help Jenna
improve her posture and work on her

Five days a week, eight-year-old Jenna Poleyeff travels from West Orange to Peapack to attend the Matheny School. Jenna, who has lennox gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, is on the waiting list for residential placement at Matheny, although her parents aren’t certain how they’ll react when and if her name comes up.

“I’m not sure I can really let her go,” says her father, Jacob Poleyeff, “although I know it’s probably the best thing.” Adds her mother, Lauren, “Ultimately, it will be a harder adjustment for us than for Jenna.” What they do know, however, is that everyday when their daughter returns home, the private nurse who accompanies her reports that, “Jenna had a great day.” “Medically, I feel comfortable at Matheny,” says Lauren Poleyeff. “They don’t panic when she has a seizure. They keep their cool; they work around her seizures. She’s been coming home day after day really happy.”

Jenna was born at 36 ½ weeks and went home from the hospital with everything supposedly fine. “She was about four months old,” recalls Lauren, “when we realized she wasn’t holding her head up.” Adds her husband, “We were getting a couple of clues. After awhile, we’d see the equivalent age kids, and we realized she was definitely behind.” When she was one year old, an MRI revealed she had some brain malformations, and by the time she was 18-20 months old, she began having what her mother describes as, “little tics. They were subtle, but they were happening frequently.” An EEG uncovered the lennox gastaut diagnosis. The hardest part of caring for Jenna, says her mother, has been managing her seizures. “We had her on a high fat, low carb diet, which stopped her seizures for about three years. Then the seizures came back again.”

The therapists at Matheny, she says, “are doing a great job with her. They had this contraption on her, and she was walking up and down the halls on her own.” The device, says physical therapist Erin Leach, DPT, was a “light gait type of gait trainer that seemed to work really well. There was a brace on her hips, called a swash, that helped keep her feet wider apart. She has been progressing really well.” Adds Poleyeff: “They worked really hard to find just the right setup that would support her. They’re very devoted. They’re creative, and they don’t give up. That’s what I’ve noticed about the therapists at Matheny. Jenna’s not a simple kid to figure out, but they continue to try different things.”

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