Jacksonville boy with cerebral palsy gets chance to play soccer after surgery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Cerebral palsy can impact a person’s ability to move or maintain their balance, and in children, it’s more common than you think. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said about one in 345 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the motor disability.

Kai Salinas is a fun-loving excited 6-year-old boy.

Soccer is his favorite sport.

Believe it or not, Kai had surgery four months ago and you would never guess it watching him dribble the ball like this.

At just three months old doctors found out Kai had cerebral palsy.

“As I was holding him, he was reaching backward up at me instead of just coming up --- his palm was upwards instead of – and I kind of noticed that a little,” Lanielle Salinas, Kai’s mom said.

Lanielle said the left side of her son’s body worked just fine.

But his right side had difficulty controlling his arm and leg which made it harder for Kai to run, go upstairs or walk on uneven ground.

“Braces on his legs to help him walk a little bit better, splints on his thumbs to kind of help him grasp things a little easier so starting with occupational therapy a little bit younger to help with that,” Lanielle said.

Kai also took a series of Botox injections to help relax his muscle spasms but after a while, doctors noticed it wasn’t working like it used to.

“Kai like a lot of children as he was growing and getting bigger, we weren’t fully able to control his spasticity with injections and he was getting quite tight over time and that was limiting his mobility,” Louise Spierre, clinical assistant professor at UF Health said.

Dr. Spierre got with her team of doctors and spoke with kai’s family about another option, a more permanent one.

“So, the selective dorsal rhizotomy is the only way to permanently reduce tone. We’ve seen just tremendous outcomes with patients that receive this surgery early,” Dr. Spierre said.

Doctor Nathan Ranalli a pediatric neurosurgeon performed Kai’s surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

It involves making a small incision in the lower part of the patient’s spine.

“I use x-rays and a pre-operative MRI scan to identify the end of the spinal cord because what we want to do is operate on the sensory nerves that are coming from the lower extremities up into the spinal cord,” Dr. Ranalli said.

Dr. Ranali stimulates the sensory nerves to see which ones cause the most spastic response.

He will cut between 50 to 60 percent of these nerves to help reduce spasticity or muscle tightness in the patient.

“We do that procedure to cut those nerves, close up the covering of the spinal cord, close up all the tissue at the back of the spine and then the patient is done with the surgery,” he said.

Salinas said her son spent 6 days in the hospital recovering.

“He had to stay in bed for almost a whole day that was really hard to do for a 5-year-old, but they definitely helped the process and keep him entertained,” Lanielle said.

He started physical therapy soon after to get his legs moving in about a month kai was already walking on his own.

Soon he was running, scoring goals both on and off the field for a new start a better life.

“I’m excited. I’m happy for him, very grateful that you know he’s had the opportunity you know to do better himself and see him kind of do things better and easier for him,” his mom said.

Instead of playing against his cousins Kai will finally fulfill his wish next month and play on a soccer team with other kids his age.