With school, physical therapy, her love for reading, and hanging out with friends, you’d think a 15-year-old girl with cerebral palsy (CP) would have more than enough going on in her life—unless it’s Lauren Walier. She’s on a mission.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old, Lauren was—at one time—in a wheelchair. She couldn’t dress herself until the sixth grade. Today she walks with a brace on one leg and a crutch. Lauren believes that, soon, no one will be able to tell she even has cerebral palsy when she walks.
She credits her parents and the therapy she’s received over the last few years for her remarkable recovery from what Lauren says is the ‘forgotten’ disability, even though it’s the most common motor disability in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While she admits there are some caring people and organizations actively funding and pursuing cures through research, Lauren demands more.
“It’s not enough, she says.” “There’s no voice.” So this wise-beyond-her-years champion is determined to become the voice of “children with CP who can’t speak for themselves.”
A global audience of doctors, researchers, clinicians, therapists, and others listened intently when Lauren spoke in 2013 at The American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine Family Forum, which was co-sponsored by Reaching for the Stars, an organization focused on CP. Lauren was their ‘ambassador’ in Milwaukee.
She asked them to be courageous, as she’s been for years dealing with CP. Be courageous enough to explore new therapies that might change the future for children and adults whose mobility and speech are affected by this debilitating disorder.
During her speech, Lauren described how she’s progressed thanks to the emerging therapy her mother Sherry discovered by chance. Sherry calls it “advanced physical therapy,” though she and Lauren hope that, someday, it will be traditional therapy because they believe it has the potential to be far more successful than today’s approaches.
For the last three years, Sherry and Lauren have traveled an hour south of their North Atlanta home several times a week to First Step Physical Therapy, where doctors use a structured Symptom Recovery Model and Integrated Manual Therapy to treat cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and other mobility-limiting issues by working on interconnective tissues, nerves, organs, muscles, ligaments, and veins. It includes physical therapy and occupational therapy.
“They’re correcting things. They’re getting to the root cause of the problems, making changes within her body so they can make physical changes to the outside of her body.”
Lauren was very sick when she began the program. She didn’t even have enough energy to breathe. The first changes were an improved energy level, sleeping through the night, resolved incontinence, and increased endurance. Her crouched posture changed dramatically after time. When she finally stood up, she was three inches taller than when she first entered therapy.
“It’s like you’re training hard for the Olympics,” says Lauren. “It’s the hardest thing you’ll do in your life.”
Apparently, it’s worth it.
Sherry was willing to take a chance on the suggestion of a physician who told her about the therapy. Sherry now believes it is the most advanced therapy that is “not out there” for the average person. She says, “Nothing has changed in traditional therapy since the post-polio era.”
With her mother’s help, Lauren is working to change that.
Turning Sour Lemons Into Something Sweet
When she was about 7 years old, Lauren was impressed by a girl she saw on the Today show. Young Alex had neuroblastoma, a malignant cancer that forms in nerve tissue. To raise funding and awareness of the disease, Alex set up lemonade stands and made enough money to capture the attention of the prominent network morning show.
“Mommy, can I help?” Sherry was thrilled when Lauren asked. “Yes, of course you can!” The little lemonade stand set up by Lauren, family, and friends raised $700 for Alex.
Her parents, particularly her mom, have always advocated for Lauren, keeping her grounded, making sure her life was as normal as possible, and encouraging her to reach for the stars. They didn’t want their daughter’s cerebral palsy to define her.
With tears in her eyes, Lauren says, “My mom is my everything, and my dad is my rock.” When they told her to reach for the stars, she took them literally.
Lauren is thrilled to be an ambassador for Reaching for the Stars, a cerebral palsy foundation committed to advocacy, education, and research to serve the needs of children with cerebral palsy and their families. Through this, and Lauren’s own foundation (stay tuned!), she’s helping kids with CP avoid denial and make their way in the world.
She says, “I want to be the big sister to those kids who need an eye-opener or someone to look up to. For me, it’s to make kids feel comfortable in their own skin.”
True to her word, Lauren has launched her own foundation called ‘Make Lemon-Aide for Cerebral Palsy.’ She, along with family and friends who lent a hand, made $1000 with the first lemonade stand, banking $7,000 by the end of the summer. And, according to Lauren, most people didn’t even take the lemonade.
A Jug Filled with Hope
Lauren simply has that type of personality. Bubbly, vivacious, smart, and focused, the ninth-grader charmed everyone who stopped by the stand. They were less interested in what they were buying and more interested in what Lauren was really selling—hope.
“People loved that they could talk to me and see me physically doing something. They looked at me, and you could just see the hope in their eyes. They loved that I was out there on the weekends. It paid off,” she recalls.
Lauren’s lemon-squeezing continues to pay off, as she spreads the word on the foundation’s Facebook page (‘like’ and share her page!), via other social media, and a ton of publicity in the press. One of the foundation’s goals is to help other kids obtain the kind of therapy that’s helped Lauren come so far.
Hoping to create a nationwide legion of Lemon-Aide stands, Lauren is reaching out to kids with cerebral palsy, their families, friends, and anyone who wants to help bring the ‘forgotten’ disability front and center. You don’t have to have CP to get involved.
Use the foundation’s Facebook page to connect with Lauren, get ideas for fundraising, become a Lemon Aide Warrior, join the Lemon Aide team and volunteer your time, host “A Walk in Lauren’s Shoes” 5K Race/Walk, start a Lemon Aide Club at your school or university, donate, and find tips on setting up a lemonade stand! She invites you to join her effort to make a difference in the lives of 17-million people in the world with this condition.
An A student, Lauren plans to go to college. She wants a career—most likely a physician’s assistant. She’ll get there, shepherding her foundation throughout college and her entire life. Kudos to her mom and dad. Lauren’s a winner. And so are all children with cerebral palsy whose ‘big sister’ is looking out for them.
Listen to the emotional speech made by Lauren to the The American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine. What else can we all do to “be courageous”?
(Editor’s Note: During my career as a writer for public relations and marketing, I’ve interviewed celebrities that include President Jimmy Carter, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Jon Anderson, front man for progressive-rock band Yes. My interview with Lauren Walier was one of my favorites. She is destined to make a difference in the world. ~S.H.)