The small basketball slipped out of Rodrick Epps’ hands and bounced off the head of his teammate Vincenzo (Vinny) Baselice, landing in the basket. The four players in the game burst into laughter.
Vinny, age 5, and Rodrick, 19, were on the same team in the mini-game in a therapy room at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Vinny, who’s several feet shorter than his buddy, was the star of the game against physical therapist Anne Theiling and occupational therapist Stasha Siers. The little guy gained everyone’s attention with his personality, but the therapists also had a job to do.
The game was a fun break from more structured therapy, and it helped Vinny, such as when Siers suggested he dribble the ball. Epps, who befriended Vinny during separate therapy sessions, benefited as well by stretching his surgically repaired knee.
“I’m going to get it,” Vinny said, much to the pleasure of Siers, who encouraged him throughout the game.
Basketball and a game in which he crawled through a short tunnel were two activities to help Vinny with paralysis on his left side, providing more equilibrium and forcing him to use his hand, said his mom, Mihaela Baselice. “He’s not afraid. It’s beautiful. And he loves (Siers),” she said. “He’s working but doesn’t know it.”
Rodrick earlier rode a stationary bike and did stretching exercises. Theiling stretched his knee, helping him to increase extension. “Anne helps me a lot. And we have fun. It’s easy now,” the senior at Gateway High School said, describing his therapist as encouraging, cool and, looking at her with a smile, “sometimes crazy.”
Rodrick has osteochondritis dissecans, a condition in which bone underneath the cartilage of a joint dies due to lack of blood flow. The bone and cartilage may then break loose, causing pain and hindering joint motion. He’s had three surgeries on the left leg and a surgery on his right knee.
He complained of knee pain from time to time, and a couple years ago his coaches recommended he get it checked before the start of football season. An SSM Health Cardinal Glennon doctor told him it was more than a bruised knee and that he needed to see an orthopaedic surgeon. His last surgery, Jan. 4, on the right knee included cartilage from a donor.
His mom, Orlena Epps, said “everybody’s so impressed with how far he’s come. He was out of the wheelchair and off the crutches in no time. He’s doing really, really good. To me, it feels like a miracle.”
She has trouble accepting his condition but is comforted at the hospital when prayers are broadcast over the public address system. “One time, the day of his surgery, they said they’d like to pray for the parents to give them courage and strength to get through their children being sick,” she said. “That really, really helped me. It’s encouraging too, because I realized it’s just not me going through it with him.”
The staff at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon” make you feel so good,” she said. “Sometimes you can go to a doctor’s office elsewhere and they look at you as a number. But here, they never make us feel like that. They’re always so happy to see us.”
Though Rodrick has given up the sports he loves, he enjoys fishing and swims three days a week every summer.
Theiling, the physical therapist, is a member of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood. She went into the field to help children, an interest developed through a babysitting job she had as a teenager. The 3-year-old she watched couldn’t walk because of a medical condition until being helped by physical therapy. Theiling’s motivation is compassion, caring and other values strengthened through attending Catholic schools. “I was taught to put others before yourself. I always wanted to help people,” Theiling said.
The therapist’s efforts also were on display in working with Isaiah Holcomb, a sophomore at Ritenour High School. He’s a hard-worker who wants to get back to playing basketball after a knee injury.
“Doin’ good,” she said to him as he pedaled on his stationary bike. “Any pain?”
He had no pain, but felt his knee stretch — a good sign. Later, he was challenged in balancing on a large rubber disc while throwing a ball. He didn’t miss any of the throws into a basket. Next, he slid down while sitting against a wall and keeping his back straight. “Good job. Your muscles are working,” Theiling said.
“They treat me good,” Isaiah said. “Anne is fun, nice and patient.”