Ohio Girl with Spina Bifida Makes Gains

Family raising money to make second trip to China for more therapy

Zanesville Times Recorder

avaRoseville, OH —Watching her daughter taking her own steps is a blessing for Jessica McCulloch.

“Ava can walk 300 feet with braces in high-tops,” McCulloch said. “She uses her wheelchair when necessary, but we don’t push her in it as much. We want her to walk. If I had a doctor’s point of view, I wouldn’t think she’d progress any further. But I have hope in the Lord.”

McCulloch is proud of her 3-year-old daughter, Ava McCulloch, who is rising above the challenges of spina bifida. Spina bifida is a developmental birth defect caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube in the spine.

When she was born in October 2008, Ava began her life with numerous health issues, including complications associated with and resulting from the birth defect. She also had hydrocephalus (fluid built up inside the skull), bowel and bladder problems, and partial vocal chord paralysis.

Doctors forecasted little chance for Ava to make any gains or walk, but the McCulloch family has explored other avenues of treatment. Now they are watching Ava defy the odds.

In July 2011 they traveled to China for Ava to receive stem-cell treatments at the Chengyang People’s Hospital in Qingdao. This visit has proven to be a step in the right direction.

McCulloch said the non-invasive stem-cell therapy consists of daily injections of stem cells from the umbilical cords of healthy Chinese-born babies. Other therapies Ava receives include electro wave, fire cupping and massage.

“Now she has more movement in her toes and ankles, her bladder can hold twice as much as before, and her orthopedic doctor confirmed she has hamstring function that wasn’t there before,” McCulloch said. “She has more strength and endurance, and more purposeful placement of her feet. It’s all in the details.

“We’re also pursuing acupuncture treatments,” she said. “For the first six days, she had acupuncture in China, she just laid there. But on the seventh day, she was crying and flinching from the needles. I took videos, and you can see it in her eyes. She felt the progress and gained some sensation.”

McCulloch said Ava continues with acupuncture once each week at Genesis Complementary Medicine.

While these marked gains have been an inspiration to the McCullochs, they don’t want to drop the ball.

“These are permanent, but it’s recommended to go back (for stem-cell treatments) within a year,” McCulloch said. “We’re planning on going back to the Chengyang People’s Hospital in Qingdao for 30 days of treatment starting July 11.”

The family needs to raise $30,000 for food, travel, accommodations, visas and other expenses.

McCulloch said they have paid $4,500 down on the treatments, and $18,000 is due by June 1. She hopes to raise this money with a special event today at the Guernsey County Fairgrounds.

The day-long Pave the Way Day, a mini-festival, will feature a variety of activities, including vehicle shows and pulls, vendors, breakfast, dances, concerts, auctions and more for all ages to enjoy. McCulloch said many people and organizations have stepped up to help with the endeavor.

Ten percent of the proceeds also will benefit the Warrior Families Beating Spina Bifida Foundation.

“I and another mother of a spina bifida child, Kara Underwood from Texas, started this, and we just received approval to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation,” McCulloch said. “This is the only one like it in the world. We will do granting of money for stem-cell treatment, donate therapy equipment, and therapy programs. It’s not just a support group. We just want to get people aware of what they can do to help children with spina bifida.”

McCulloch also wants to raise awareness for the Chinese treatments that have benefited Ava.

“This is a possibility of curing things like this, but there’s not a current cure,” she said. “It’s about the small improvements.”


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