Category Archives: Equipment

Mini vs. Mickey – the rematch.

A couple of months ago, I found out that there was a newer, more advanced, more awesome version of the Mic-key button out there. It’s called the Mini-One. The Mini doesn’t stick out as far, so it makes life easier if you need a body brace, or belly crawl, or have a kid who likes to grab them and pull them out, etc. Naturally, I wanted one.

I jumped through the necessary hoops (why are there always hoops?), and got the new awesome thing for Katie. And… well, for starters, the largest diameter available in the Mini is a 14 French (4.6 mm). Katie had an 18 French (6 mm) button before. No big deal , but it did mean her stoma needed to shrink around the new button, and in the mean time it was going to be a bit floppy. Also, because the diameter is smaller, it is more likely to clog. I found this out the hard way. Katie’s Prevacid simply will not go through this tube. It clogs every time. I resorted to giving her this orally. It isn’t supposed to be chewed, but at least she was getting some of it.

Then I decided we had been better off with the old button. So, I tried to switch it back, but I didn’t have much luck with that. (See previous post for more on that.)

This week, it occurred to me that I could check with the doc about changing the button back. If it would require another surgery, that would be a deal breaker. But perhaps there was yet another piece of this equation that I didn’t know.

I called Katie’s gastro, and again was referred back to the surgeon. So, I talked with the the surgeon’s nurse, and she said they could probably dilate her stoma to get the larger button in. Woo hoo!

Well, okay, not totally woo hoo. Stretching out her stoma could be uncomfortable. So, I felt kind of crappy about that. But, having a button that fit her better overall, that did what we needed it to do, that didn’t sag – that outweighed the pinch of making the switch.

We met with the surgeon (again), and she asked about why we wanted to change back. Then she said that the last hospital she worked at had unilaterally sent all their Minis back – they hated them. So, I guess it isn’t just me.

Some people love the Mini. I think it has some neat features. In our case, though, the older technology is what works best.

There and back again.
There and back again.
No tears over switching back.
No tears over switching back.

Life’s full of tough choices, idn’t it?

Katie got her gastrostomy (feeding tube) a month before she turned three. Her pediatrician had been nudging us in that direction for the better part of two years, with Katie clinging by her fingernails to the third percentile all the while. She didn’t drop into that failure to thrive range, but the summer she was two I was able to pull the clothes back out from the previous year and put them on her again.

Why did it take so long to make that decision? Well, it’s complicated. I was a stay at home mom at the time, and we didn’t have any family nearby. So, I was pretty much completely immersed in my first child and her care. We spent years in feeding therapy, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend 8-10 hours a day feeding her one little bite at a time.

At the time, I had reservations that had more to do with me than with Katie or a procedure or anything else. I was pouring myself into her care. When it came down to really needing to take the surgical step, I felt like such a failure. I felt like if I had done things differently, better, whatever, she wouldn’t be in this position. I cried a lot the day we decided to go ahead with the g-tube.

I was also worried about becoming complacent. Working on feeding, going to feeding therapy, trying different equipment, trying a therapist someone else said was really good, searching for the magic food that would make everything work – it was exhausting. I was afraid that if we had the tube in place, I would give up. I wouldn’t do my best for my daughter anymore. I was so tired.

In hindsight, it was all pretty stupid. We were spending all of our waking hours on this, trying to keep the stress out of the equation, but of course that was impossible. Katie got her button, and we got the hang of using it. Prior to surgery, we had to give any meds precariously by mouth. If she needed Tylenol, I would take it and put a few drops on a little bite of bread, and feed it to her bit by bit. We called them Tylenol sandwiches.

We did back off on feeding therapy, and realistically, that was also the right thing to do. What kid wants to spend their life working on therapy? What mom wants to spend all their time with their baby pretending to be a therapist?

Katie learned to eat but she never did master drinking. She was nursed initially, and never would take a bottle. She also has a delayed swallow reflex, so liquids and anything thin or light is really hard for her to control. For the longest time, I felt terribly guilty. If only I’d just bottle fed her, maybe… Well, maybe lots of things. Maybe she would have been able to bridge that gap by continuing on a bottle into her toddler years, and who knows, maybe even to this day. Or, maybe she would have aspirated and died.

I’m done beating myself up over it.

We kept up feeding therapy for awhile, but eventually let it drop altogether. Katie hated it. I hated it. She enjoys eating, and does well with that. She still doesn’t like anything remotely smooth – no Jello or ice cream for this kid. She gets the rest of what she needs through her tube. She doesn’t mind this arrangement, and I have reached a point where I am at peace with it.

Every once in a while, a doctor will ask about this, and whether we are pursuing feeding therapy. I just smile, and let them know that we have what we need. It isn’t conventional, but what part of our life is? Different isn’t bad. It’s just different.

Well, angelfish, the solution to your problem is simple.
Well, angelfish, the solution to your problem is simple.

Brush, brush, brush your teeth…

Today’s little product review… the Surround toothbrush

A couple of months ago Katie’s dentist gave us a free sample of a Surround toothbrush. I set it on a shelf and abruptly forgot about it.

I came across it the other day, and decided to give it a go. This is a toothbrush with bristles angling in on both sides. The idea is that you can brush your (child’s) teeth more thoroughly in a smaller amount of time than you need with a regular toothbrush.

Well – it might work. For someone. If that someone has a fairly large mouth, and is happy to open it to get their teeth cleaned.

Katie is not that someone.

I normally use a toddler size or just slightly larger brush to get her teeth cleaned. We also count when we do this. Katie loves counting, and it makes the task more tolerable for her to know that there will only be a few more seconds.

Katie gave the Surround brush a very definite thumbs down. While the concept might work for some, it is simply too big to wield in my ten year old’s mouth. I also could only move it back and forth on one plane – like sawing. Otherwise, the bristles would be down on her gums. Moving the brush around – a little here, a little over there – seems to make the process more acceptable for Katie. We’re going to stick with the little Snoopy toothbrushes from Target.

That said, someone in a different situation might find this brush useful.

The Surround Toothbrush
$5.00 + shipping at
or free, if your dentist gives you a sample

Time saver or space waster?
Time saver or space waster?
In case you're traveling. Or if you want to call and order more. I don't.
In case you’re traveling. Or if you want to call and order more. I don’t.

I won! I won!

What’s your kid’s least favorite thing? Katie’s least favorite thing is her braces for her feet.

Katie's AFOs
Katie’s AFOs

Scratch that. Her least favorite thing is getting casted for the braces for her feet. She has expressed herself so thoroughly on this fact that I think she may have actually caused some orthotists to leave the profession.

Regardless, we need them. Because Katie has good range of motion in her feet (and because she really, really hates them) we only wear them for standing exercises.

I haven’t been doing much of that this summer. Normally, Katie goes to summer school, so she would wear them then. This year I decided we should have a real summer, and I barely put her in them at all. Getting her into a stander or gait trainer has become a real challenge for me physically, so we mostly let them gather dust. Katie doesn’t mind.

Yes, yes. My bad.

A few weeks ago, I was doing some cleaning, and I noticed one of the inserts for her AFOs (ankle foot orthotics) was missing. Her braces work in two parts – there’s a hard outer shell, that protects and gives structure to her ankle and foot. Then there’s a silicone sleeve (sock?) that protects her skin from the hard outer shell. One of the sleeve/sock things was not with the rest of the stuff.

Silicone sleeve to keep the brace from hurting Kate's skin.
Silicone sleeve to keep the brace from hurting Kate’s skin.

My three year is fascinated by Katie’s orthotics (like everything else of Kate’s), and occasionally she gets hold of the braces and tries to wear them. (Yes, once again, my bad.) My first thought was that perhaps my littlest had taken off with it.

After a thorough tossing of the girls’ toy boxes, dressers, beds, and closets, I came up empty.

Well, crap.

So, school is about to start in a couple of weeks. I have three fourths of Katie’s AFOs. What to do?

I stewed on it for a few days, sure that the stupid thing would turn up. Nope. So, I swallowed my pride and called the clinic. I was routed to Mark, one of three orthotists.

Mark checked on when the last casting was done, and said the company might still have it. He checked and called me back within about fifteen minutes. No problem. Yay!!! I was really starting to sweat that I might need to buy a whole additional set of hateful AFOs over this.

The company did still have the impression of Katie’s foot, and Mark said it would only take about a week to get it.

So, I walked around for a few days with a little boost of having something gone my way.

A week went by.

Another week went by.

I tend to lose track of things that aren’t right in front of me, demanding my attention (read: mommy syndrome). I suddenly realized school was about to start, and I hadn’t heard back from Mark.

Okay, time to get annoying. So I called the clinic. I asked for Mark, in orthotics. “Which Mark in orthotics?”

Umm… what? You only have three orthotists, and two of them are named Mark? Are you kidding me? Come on, at least give one of them a nickname or something!

They routed me to one of the Marks, and I left a voicemail. The next day, noone called me back. Of course, I didn’t realize this until 5:05…

The following day, I called again. “Which Mark?”

“Heck if I know. I think it was the one with the curly hair, but I just talked to him on the phone.”

That caused a pregnant little silence. Then I was shunted off to a voicemail again.

The next day, after explaining again, I was routed to a medical supply person(s voicemail).

On Friday afternoon, I realized (again – remember the mommy syndrome thing) that this stupid issue still wasn’t resolved, and the first day of school was Monday. So, I called again, and pled with the receptionist.

She got the nurse to call back, who figured out that the stupid little silicone sleeve/sock thing was actually there. Did we want to come and pick it up, or just wait and get it during our appointment later next week?

Um, yeah – now, please!

So, at 4:15 on Friday, I loaded up my ten year old and my three year old. We got there in five minutes.They took about five minutes to confirm that the new one did fit Kate’s foot, and we were off!

So, this morning Katie went off to her first day of fifth grade with all of her accessories in place.

We’ll see if they all make it home.

Random monkey.
Random monkey.

These are a few of my favorite things…

Wow. That was SO COOL!

I was lucky enough to get to the Abilities Expo in Chicago this weekend, and it was awesome. (Yes, I am a child of the ‘80s. I also lived on the west coast for awhile, so I get to use the word awesome. Deal with it.)

It will take awhile to sort out the blur of all that was, but I wanted to mention of few of the most interesting things that I saw.

FreeWheel. – This is a single wheel, about 10-12” high, that hooks easily to the front of a chair with a standard footplate. You know how those tiny front wheels won’t go over anything? Yeah, solved. The FreeWheel (which has a fender – why can’t I get fenders for our back wheels?! – Question for another day.) turns in a way that your front wheels come off the ground slightly. This makes it a lot easier to push. The beefier front wheel also means the chair can handle rougher terrain. The inventor has collected pictures of users taking their chairs into the woods, on the beach, etc.
It also has an attachment for a rack: the perfect size to hold a grocery basket, bungee on your textbooks or set a baby’s car seat.
The downsides: the Freewheel only works with a standard type of chair. This won’t work on Kate’s complex chair. Oh, and it costs about $500. But, it’s probably worth it if does everything it’s supposed to.

Freewheel's inventor. Necessity is a mother.
Freewheel’s inventor. Necessity is a mother.
This rack works well for a grocery basket or similar sized item.
This rack works well for a grocery basket or similar sized item.

Frog Legs – These are SO COOL! (Once again, child of the ‘80s, etc.) These were probably my single favorite invention at the whole show. I have been lamenting for years that Katie has such a rough ride. We can’t even go down the sidewalk without her head bouncing all over the place. These little shock absorbers fit above the little front wheels, and they DO work on a complex chair (YAY!). It’s a simple matter of switching out that front caster, so it doesn’t matter if the chair tilts, if the footplate is fixed, etc.
The downsides: I didn’t see one. Perhaps I’ll find some feedback that will fill that in, but right now, I’m just impressed. Unfortunately, I think I’ll have to wait to order ours until after Katie’s surgery this fall, as we may wind up in a new chair.
Cost: $350

Mobility-Usa’s Grillo – I don’t know about you, but I have kind of a hard time with Katie’s gait trainer. I have to take it in to be adjusted every time she grows. She’s nine – she grows a lot. And, I can’t fit her and the Bronco in my can at the same time, which means I need to drop the thing off and pick it up separately. What to do?
Oh hey, let’s make it push button adjustable! Yes, I am about to spout out another great ‘80s word.
The Grillo is an anterior gait trainer, meaning the bar that connects the sides is in front of the user. It has articulating vertical supports (think of knees bending or straightening). You can change the ride height with nothing more than your unprofessional hands. It also has a padded strap seat, padded chest strap, and a handlebar instead of a tray. Our tray mostly just gets in the way, and is one more thing for Kate to bruise her arms on. The handlebar is also adjustable and removeable.
Oh, and did I mention this? – It FOLDS. No seriously – one of the gigantic pieces of equipment for my kid, and it doesn’t require a permanent parking space? This sucker will fit into a trunk!
The downsides: there is still some hardware that is probably within reach of flailing arms. I would be looking for ways to pad that. For some kids, the tray is very useful, and it doesn’t have that. Also, if someone really needed head support, I’m not sure how you would add that.
Cost: I’m sure it varies, but has them for about $2500 – $2800. They also have a posterior version, which might solve some of the padding and head issues. This is also DME, and if your insurance covers equipment, you may be able to get it covered with a good letter from your PT.

This gait trainer raises and lowers with the touch of a button (or two).
This gait trainer raises and lowers with the touch of a button (or two).

There were a couple of things I was expecting to see, but was bummed (see 80s references) not to find.

First off, is there a sling out there anywhere that really works well for children with dystonia? I saw nothing new or innovative with transfers. One of these days, I will make something.

Also, I was expecting to see VPG there. The first vehicle purpose built for a wheelchair user, I wanted to see what they have coming up next. I also wanted to offer my suggestions about how they missed the mark the first time around. I know they would love me for that. No such luck.

Finally, some of the workshops were a little lackluster. The therapist from Shriners, who covered equipment and ways to make your own cheap versions, did a nice job. The guy who covered home modifications was basically a sales rep.

Overall, this was worth the trip. Admission is free, so if you can make it to one of the shows, it’s definitely worth the time.

You can check out their schedule at

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