May 14, 2018 9:20 pm

American clinic making a difference for Okanagan girl who can’t walk


When Julia Grassmick was just 17-months-old she sustained a spinal cord injury.

A blood clot compressing against the cord left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Doctors in B.C. gave the little Okanagan girl no chance of walking again.

Unwilling to accept that prognosis, her parents took matters into their own hands and sought help and hope at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which specializes in pediatric spinal cord injuries.

The West Kelowna girl, now 4, has travelled to Baltimore with her parents three times.

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The family recently returned from the latest trip with some encouraging news.

“They told us that she is now using her abdominal muscles and her hip flexor muscles on her own,” Grassmick said “She was, on purpose, using these muscles to take steps, which I didn’t know she could do so it was really exciting.”

Certain parts of Julia’s leg braces were disengaged at the U.S. clinic for the first time and surprisingly, Julia was still able to take steps.

“We were able to unlock the hip joints and in fact Julia independently and actively advanced her legs,” Meredith Budai, senior physical therapist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said.

In addition to the treatment Julia receives at the clinic, the Kennedy Krieger Institute has given the family a therapy program to follow at home, something the Grassmicks have taken on very seriously. Melissa has given up her job to be able to provide her daughter with intense daily therapy, up to 18 hours a week.

It’s an effort that now seems to be paying off.

“She’s paralyzed from about her chest down so technically she should not be able to use her abs, her back muscles, really any of her leg muscles but that is what is so amazing that she can and has been able to learn how to use them,” Grassmick said.

All this comes at a hefty cost.

The trips to Baltimore, treatment and therapy equipment are not covered under B.C. Medical and has cost the family tens of thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, a lot of it has been covered with fundraising efforts.

The family plans on going to Baltimore every six months for as long as they keep seeing progress to give their little girl the best chance possible.

“It’s hard to say how much recovery she will get, whether she will get back to 100 per cent,” Grassmick said. “Maybe that is unlikely she will get to 100, maybe she will get to 70 per cent, that would be amazing.”

A golf fundraiser is planned for Sept. 16 at Sunset Ranch in Kelowna. Tickets are $130 per person which includes 18 holes of golf and dinner.

For tickets you can contact Melissa directly at 250-863-9975 or email her at

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