Hartley is a happy-go-lucky, 3-year-old who’s always on the go. He also has cerebral palsy, which affects 1 in 400 children born in the UK. In Hartley’s case it means he has difficulty walking and using his right arm and hand, and it may also be affecting his speech. In this emotionally powerful documentary, parents Tracy and Paul, from Cardiff in Wales, give themselves a year to improve Hartley’s condition.
It’s an inspirational journey filmed over 12 months authored by Tracy Jenkins, mother of 3-year-old Hartley. He is a year away from taking his first step into school and they want to see if by then they can improve Hartley’s capabilities.
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, it is a brain injury that affects movement and co-ordination. It can cause a painful tightening of the muscles which limits movement and can worsen as children get older. But Tracy and Paul discover new research that gave them hope, showing that young children’s brains are highly adaptable, it’s called neuro-plasticity. With specialist physiotherapy treatments, children with damaged brains can work around the damage part of the brain and make new connections to gain an increased level of control over their limbs. But as Hartley grows older, his neuroplasticity will decrease and Paul and Tracy realise they must act now to get the therapy that could have lasting effect over the rest of his life.
What follows is an emotional rollercoaster as mum Tracy devotes every available, moment to training Hartley’s brain to build new connections to enable his brain to gain better control of his legs, arm and hand. She tracks down clinics and physiotherapists who can provide the latest treatments.
In order to improve the connection between his brain and hand, they put Hartley forward for a treatment called Constraint Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT). They travel to a private clinic in Essex, Kid’s Physio Works for the CIMT treatment which can seem quite extreme. A plaster cast is put on Hartley’s good arm, so he has no choice but to use his bad arm. It was difficult for mum Tracy, ‘you feel like a horrible parent doing that to him’. But with his good hand and arm out of action, the play-based therapy begins. Astonishingly, he starts using his right hand straight away in a way he had never done before.
Hartley’s loves the therapy, it’s like play, so he has no idea it’s actualally a bootcamp for his brain. In every session, according to senior physiotherapist Kirsty Williams, ‘Hartley has to make 400 repeated actions with his right arm. The more that his arm is stimulated, the more the brain is thinking I am being used so I am going to make another connection here so I am able to send more signals down to that arm and hand’.
Keeping Hartley on his therapy schedule means turning down work, renting out their home to raise money, and even going abroad.
Paul takes a job in Bulgaria where they find the Specialist Hospital Centre for the Rehabilitation of Children with cerebral palsy where a range of new treatments are all practiced under one roof so, they book Hartley in. It’s a centre of excellence and the hospital treats over 100 children a day. Tracy soon discovers that as well as being a leading European centre, they also share some of the same ideas Tracy and Paul have about how children and new-born babies should be treated for cerebral palsy.
The battle to repair and re-wire Hartley’s brain takes a huge financial, emotional and physical toll on the family, but Paul and Tracy feel they have to make the most of this potential window of opportunity. So, will their hard work and sacrifice pay off and will they be able to improve Hartley’s condition to enable him to better face the challenges he’ll face when he finally starts school?