By the time Daniel Duker was 11 months old, he had already endured more than 20 surgeries to correct his tracheo-esophageal fistula, an abnormal connection between his trachea and his esophagus that made breathing and eating life-threatening. The congenital defect itself, the surgeries, and the aftermath of spending more than two months in Valleys neonatal intensive care unit left his muscle tone weakened. Due to a surgery complication, he also suffered vocal cord paralysis.
Two years later, Daniel shows no outward signs of his early ordeals accept a tiny scar at the top of his trachea where a tracheotomy tube was once in place to provide an artificial airway for breathing. Physical and speech therapy at the Kireker Center for Child Development have caught Daniel up, and like any other 3-year-old he rides a bike, sings, plays catch, and zooms around his backyard.
"The dark days are behind us," emphasizes Daniel's mom, Patrice Duker. "My husband, Michael, and I trusted Daniel's therapists with his life back then, and still do."
Over the course of the two years that Daniel came to the Kireker Center for therapy, his therapists treated not just him but the entire family.
"By the time Daniel had his first physical therapy appointment at 11 weeks old, we were overwhelmed," she recalls. "He had already undergone a number of surgeries; he had been on a ventilator to breathe; and he had been trached and had a gastric tube inserted for feeding purposes. But when his physical therapist looked me in the eyes and said, 'He will be OK,' all I could do was cry."
Daniel's physical therapist provided range-of-motion exercises to help him to regain his muscle tone and modified "tummy-time" exercises due to him having a trach and g-tube (gastric tube).
Once Daniel's trach tube was removed a year later, his speech therapist provided exercises and tips which ultimately led him to speak at an age-appropriate level.
"Daniel's therapists counseled us, held our hands, and were with us every step of the way," says Patrice.
Although Daniel no longer comes to the Kireker Center for Child Development regularly for therapy, he is still monitored every couple of months to ensure he is at age- appropriate levels.
"Daniel has overcome many bumps in the road," says Patrice. "He is where he is today because of his therapists at the Kireker Center. We couldn't have done it without them. We are forever grateful."