Evander Conroy
Evander Conroy

Four-year-old Evander Conroy is visiting Louisville this summer from his home in Sydney, Australia to continue therapy designed to help him gain the ability to walk.

Evander is receiving Locomotor Training (LT) with University of Louisville researcher Andrea Behrman, Ph.D., director of the Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery, a clinical services division of UofL’s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center(KSCIRC).

To make this trip to Louisville even more special, Evander will be the first child to utilize a newly developed locomotor treadmill designed specifically for children. Previously, Behrman and her team had to adapt adult devices to fit Evander and other children who come from around the world for the therapy.

Helping make the visit possible is the Crawford’s Kid program, created by the Todd Crawford Foundation to Cure Paralysis, which provides funds to help cover the family’s expenses related to the trip to Louisville. Evander, the second “Crawford’s Kid,” will spend five weeks in Louisville receiving booster LT therapy and participating in research to better understand the muscle activity contributing to his progress for sitting, standing and stepping.

Evander’s spine was damaged by a malignant tumor present in his chest cavity at birth, and his family was told he would spend his life in a wheelchair. However, his mother, Clare, met Behrman at a spinal cord injury conference in Australia and learned about LT, an activity-based rehabilitation approach Behrman provides at Frazier Rehab Institute, a part of KentuckyOne Health, in Louisville. Evander previously came to Louisville for therapy with Behrman in 2013 and again in 2014, and has experienced significant progress. Through the therapy, Evander has been able to move his legs and take independent steps.

The Todd Crawford Foundation grew out of efforts to assist Crawford following his own injury in 2002. Crawford was 22 years old and had just graduated from college when he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him in a wheelchair. His family and friends organized fundraisers to help during his physical rehabilitation. Crawford, who earned an MBA from UofL, is president of Crawford Designs and continues the fundraising events, including the 5K Run, Walk or Roll. Funds from the events support Crawford’s Kids and other programs affiliated with KSCIRC, as well as spinal cord awareness and advocacy organizations.

“We are able to help financially assist these kids coming to Louisville because we have a large group of wonderful people who come to our events and support our mission. For this, we are continually grateful,” Crawford said.

The new treadmill is the result of a collaborative effort of Behrman and her colleagues in the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center and others throughout the university, especially from the UofL Speed School of Engineering. Funding for the development of the prototype came from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Additional funding from the Coulter Foundation will be used in this collaborative effort throughout the university to move this device forward to commercialization as a clinical unit for use in pediatric rehabilitation.

About Locomotor Training

Andrea Behrman, Ph.D., is a professor in UofL’s Department of Neurological Surgery and director of the Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery. Her research focus is to develop and test therapeutic methods that promote recovery after spinal cord injury in children and adults. Behrman has found that early, intensive therapy harnesses the damaged system’s remarkable capacity to change. With intensive, specific therapies capitalizing on this plasticity of the spinal cord and nervous system, children like Evander Conroy who were never expected to get better are getting better. While intensive activity-based therapy does not always lead to fully independent walking, evidence shows it improves mobility, functional skills, quality of life and overall health.

Betty Coffman
Betty Coffman is a Communications Coordinator focused on research and innovation at UofL. A UofL alumna and Louisville native, she served as a writer and editor for local and national publications and as an account services coordinator and copywriter for marketing and design firms prior to joining UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing.