CHIPPEWA FALLS — When Lindsay Pohlen told 5-year-old Krue Czarnecki that a portion of his speech therapy would be in the kitchen, Krue’s eyes lit up.
“Popcorn!” he yelled while clapping his hands.
Not exactly. This time he would be making a chocolate ice cream treat. For Pohlen, a speech therapist with Speech, Physical and Occupational Therapy Services of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, any way to get her patients excited about learning and able to relate it to a real-world activity is the way to go.
Pohlen, 31, sees children for many different speech afflictions — problems with articulation, understanding and social use of language, voice disorders, fluency and stuttering, and feeling and swallowing.
She also sees children with many different disabilities, but it’s rare that she sees someone like Krue who lives with a disability that could have been easily avoided.
When Krue was 10 months old, his mother, Kellie Murphy, picked him up from day care and was told that she should probably take him to the hospital.
Krue’s eyes were rolled back, and it appeared he was having a seizure. He was rushed to the hospital in Black River Falls and then flown to Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse.
It was touch and go for a while. Murphy and her husband, Neil Czarnecki, Krue’s father, weren’t sure if Krue was going to survive. When the dust settled, several doctors told Murphy and her husband that Krue had all of the signs of shaken baby syndrome — retinal hemorrhages, swelling of the brain more on one side than the other, tightness in muscles on one side of his body and other symptoms.
Murphy couldn’t believe it.
“This was someone I had used for years,” she said of her day care provider in Black River Falls. “It took me a long time to accept that it was her.”
Tamara Millis, 55, the day care provider accused of injuring Krue, was ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution, placed on electronic monitoring for 12 weeks and ordered not to provide child care for non-relatives for a year. All of Millis’ conditions have since been completed, and the charge has now been dismissed.
The sentence and now-dismissed felony does little to ease the pain the Murphy and her family feel on a daily basis.
“This was life-changing,” Murphy said while Krue continued his therapy feet away from her at S.P.O.T.S. in Chippewa Falls. “He spent his first birthday in the hospital.
“He was born healthy. Sometimes I look at him and wonder what he would be like (if this hadn’t happened).”
But Murphy and her husband didn’t lie down and accept that Krue may never walk or talk. They did everything in their power to advance Krue’s skills.
The family traveled to Lincoln, Neb., in 2010 for a two-month inpatient stay, they enrolled Krue in therapy at Black River Memorial Hospital, Krue underwent hyperbaric treatments in Madison, and he had stem cell treatment from his own bone marrow in the Dominican Republic to help with his vision.
“I have a whole new respect for children with special needs,” Murphy said.
She said she knows it’s difficult for people to understand the complexities and emotions that go with having a child with special needs.
“I hope nobody has to understand this,” she said.
They also did the Birth to 3 program in Clark County. And Murphy learned of S.P.O.T.S. pediatric therapy in Chippewa Falls from a co-worker in Jackson County.
Murphy knew that Krue needed the extra help. At that time, he was 2 years old, but he wasn’t able to communicate.
“Speech-wise, he wasn’t progressing,” Murphy said.
Now, two years later, Krue can walk and talk with help from speech, physical and occupational therapists at S.P.O.T.S.
During the summer, Krue sees the therapists two times a week. He also does music therapy in Marshfield once a week, Murphy said.
Pohlen, the S.P.O.T.S. speech therapist, said Krue has made so much progress in the two years that she has been seeing him.
“You’re not only empowering the child, but empowering the family too,” she said.
Whenever she works with a child, Pohlen also explains to the parents why she is doing what she’s doing. Then the parents can mimic the repetition at home.
“I always say, ‘You’re your child’s best teacher,’ ” Pohlen said.
She also tries to make the therapy functional by generalizing the activities. In June Krue helped make an ice cream treat, and Pohlen asked him to describe how he made the treat.
At home he can do the same with his family.
Pohlen can’t imagine doing anything else.
“S.P.O.T.S. has a really good reputation in the community,” she said. “I think it’s so amazing that you can change a child’s outcome in life.
“Without communication, where would you be?”
Van Duyse is a marketing specialist for HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls.