New IWK specialist helping kids achieve life goals — like going to the mall

In a large room filled with stairs, a basketball net and railings, four-year-old Elliot Little plays cards as Dr. Jordan Sheriko looks on.

Elliot beams as he matches two pictures of fish.

This isn't how many people would picture a rehabilitation session. But Sheriko isn't here to do conventional therapy.

"It's very much life goals, it's very much function-based," he said of his work. "Moving away from the specifics of the diagnosis and moving toward, 'What is it that you want to do?'"

Sheriko became the first pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the IWK Health Centre when he started last summer. He's one of a small but growing field in Canada, where he estimates there are fewer than two dozen who have finished the subspecialty.

Treat the person, not the disease

While his title may be a mouthful, his work follows a simple concept — treat the whole person, not the disease.

"It's less about, 'Can I move my arm?' and more about 'Can I learn to play certain things with my friends?' or 'I want to go to the mall' or 'I want to go hiking with my friends.' So we want to look at how their illness or disability influences that."

The IWK rehab clinic follows as many as 600 patients with a wide range of conditions. Sheriko works with children with everything from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injuries to brain trauma.

There are fewer than two dozen pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists in Canada, even though the career has existed to treat adults for years. Sheriko says it's about time children received the same level of care. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

He says by setting life goals, the children have different motivation and respond differently to the idea of rehabilitation therapy.

“For a lot of patients and families, that’s a difficult journey to go on, the various stages of understanding and accepting those differences that they may have,” he said.

"We're not necessarily going to cure or get rid of your disease, but we can certainly move things a lot further forward in terms of what you want to achieve with your life."

New career in pediatrics

The career has existed to treat adults for years, but pediatrics are playing catch-up.

Sheriko says it’s an exciting time to be a part of the field, thanks to the evolution of technology. Many of his patients live in rural parts of the Maritimes and don’t have access to services such as transit.

But he says smart homes and vehicles are opening the options for those with disabilities and their rehabilitation.

"Even looking at our power wheelchairs, where we were 10 years ago compared to where we are now is really looking at, 'How do we maximize that independence for patients and families?' And it's really quite exciting."

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CBC | Health News