Alexandra Bade

Clinical picture: cerebral palsy with distinct torso hypotonia

The mother, Claudia Bade (member of dolphin aid’s parents’ association) reports on her stay in the newly created dolphin centre on Curaçao, and of course about the therapy of her daughter Alexandra

CDTC – Curaçao Dolphin Therapy Center

In December of 2003 I learned that dolphin aid planned to offer dolphin assisted therapy with the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, starting in 2004. The objective of this cooperation was to create treatment units on the highest level. The dolphin aid therapy, which dolphin aid created for the Curaçao Dolphin Therapy Center, is based on the current state of medical research and highlights the free interaction between dolphin and patient. Mrs. Dr. Jasmin Mayer-Rosa (medical-scientific advisory board of dolphin aid) took over the management in the beginning. I found this information to be quite interesting.

I remember when Roswitha (Rauh) called me on a Monday in January in my office and asked me how I was doing. I said “meh, Mondays, you know” whereas she replied „Well, in this case I have good news for you”. dolphin aid inquired if we could imagine to fly to Curaçao in March, as a “test family” to train staff and animals. You bet we could. We were super excited and couldn’t wait to explore Curaçao and the therapy centre. My daughter Alexandra was smiling all over her face and didn’t want to go to school any longer from this moment on. Every day, she crossed off the day off the calendar and was so thrilled. After four hectic weeks of preparation we arrived in Curaçao in late February. The families Geiger and Beik were with us. All of us felt very honoured to witness the start of this new therapy centre. But the things waiting for us would literally blow our minds.

The therapy centre is located on the sea aquarium’s compound and borders the open sea and is constructed beautifully. The dolphin “tank” is very large and separated from the open sea by a cliff. This natural bay provides ideal living conditions for the three dolphins Tela, Mateo and Nemo. Tela is the only dolphin lady and the boss of the group. She is super nice and very patient, Alexandra enjoyed her time with Tela very much. At first, Mateo thought that there is more to life than therapy, but he learned a lot from Kevin, and in the end they were inseparable. Nemo, being the youngest dolphin at three years old, still was very playful and couldn’t help himself but fooling around from time to time. He was the right dolphin for Max, expert in dolphin swimming. Those three wonderful dolphins have been trained since September under the direction of Rudolf Jäckle. It should also be mentioned that the dolphins have never encountered tourists.

The young team of therapists consists of trained professionals from all over the world:

Mrs. Dr. Jasmin Mayer-Rosa, Germany
Dr. Peter Drissl, psychologist, Germany
Dr. van der Hüls, general practitioner, Curaçao
Dr. Nadine Herzig, orthopaedics, Germany
Ronneke Kats, office, management, Netherlands
Marco Kürschner, chief therapist, physiotherapist, Germany
Kerstin Fard-Yazdani, speech therapist, Germany
Ella Among, occupational therapist, Israel
Adinda Wiener, physiotherapist, Netherlands
Anja Monnoye, physiotherapist, Belgium
Lisa Faust, intern, Germany
Marie Nicole Krause, intern, Germany

These wonderful and lovely people had known each other for a short time only. They got together in the beginning of the year for their intense training in order to be up to the standard of dolphin aid’s therapy. In early March, they met our „test children“. The good atmosphere, the fantastic mood within the team was very infective. These highly motivated therapists couldn’t wait to work with our children. Everybody in the team was very cordial and interested so that we were dying for the “test phase” to begin.

At this point I would like to mention, that both Kirsten Kuhnert and, amongst others, Dr. Ibach from dolphin aid’s medical-scientific advisory board were present. He inspected the hospitals and the medical care and concluded that the equipment corresponded with the highest European standards. Britta Siebert from the office in Düsseldorf, who was significantly involved with the organisation, simultaneously was on Curaçao to establish the office with Ronneke.

A briefing was scheduled for the first Sunday. This briefing gave us goose bumps. Everybody who was involved in establishing the therapy centre was present. Kirsten Kuhnert (Kiki), Adrian Schrier (Dutch), co-owner of the sea aquarium, Dr. Ibach and Dr. Mayer-Rosa (both from the medical-scientific advisory board of dolphin aid), the team of therapists and us three families. Everybody introduced themselves and explained why there were here on this day and nowhere else. Heinz Geiger mentioned, that dolphin aid reached the second historic milestone in dolphin assisted therapy, just one year after the scientific symposium in Munich (March 2003)! Dutch told us that my different nations and cultures live side by side in peace on Curaçao and the he wants the new therapy centre to live by this “respect for people”. All in all, this first meeting was a special moment for each and every one of us.

Following the briefing, the case histories were discussed individually. The respective therapist studied the sent-in documents and asked additional questions about each child. Together they elaborated on where to set the focus on the respective child. Next day would be the “dolphin aid therapy CDTC dress rehearsal”. Our children were to appear one hour before the actual dolphin assisted therapy. The therapist gets to know „their“ child and talks, exercises and plays with them. Alexandra for example has done a lot of exercises using the medicine ball, like stretching arms and shoulders and supporting exercises. Her therapist often was surprised about her strength and power. Another part is putting on the wetsuit which signals that the children are about to meet the dolphins.

Dolphin trainer George always was the first person on the scene and was waiting for Ella and Alexandra. In Alexandra’s therapy, the focus was on controlling her head (it was lopsided after her spine surgery), her open hand, her leg muscles that are shortened due to sitting in the wheelchair as well as her communication. At the beginning of each session they sat Alexandra down, and her legs dangled in the water. She surprisingly never complained because she only used to feel safe in her wheelchair. Alexandra’s cooperation was very intensive and focused. But it didn’t keep her from bethinking herself of her “trainer job” and show Ella how it’s done. Ella got challenged, and Alexandra showed the full scope of her personality up to a power struggle to show who has more pull. Dolphin Tela was very patient and persevering in the water, and Alexandra enjoyed the intensive contact with the dolphin very, very much. Alexandra performed all exercises way better in the water than on dock. It was interesting to see that Alexandra kept on seeking eye contact with Tela, even if she was underwater. Watching the dolphin assisted therapy, it stood out to us – we parents could watch from a distance so that we wouldn’t distract our child – that is was very calm and peaceful during the session with our children. One of the reasons for this surely was, that the dolphin trainers gave the dolphins some space and didn’t blow their whistle at the very first, short contact. A lot of time was planned for the free interaction between dolphin and child. Tela picked Alexandra’s feet and performed the so called footpush. After every session, Alexandra was in a very good mood, very relaxed and at one with the world. She subsequently talked a lot. I would like to point out that Alexandra calmly slept twelve hours in a row at night.

As the normal, daily therapeutic process had to be trained, our children were lucky to meet the dolphins twice. So, there was one session in the morning and one in the afternoon. After every second session of each day, the therapist had a chat with the parents. After those two intense weeks of training for Alexandra and Ella, we concluded that in this short amount of time (therapeutically speaking) Alexandra reached all her milestones. The head needed less support of the head restraint, we could even remove the lateral one. Her body and especially her hands are very relaxed and she hasn’t made a fist yet again. She can grasp more precisely and perseveringly. After coming back home, the teachers were astonished how good and relaxed Alexandra looked. She was laughing all the time and seemed more grown up to the teachers. The subsequent leisure time without mom and dad were a huge success. Alexandra was cheerful, broadminded and actively participated in everything. This maturity and being able to open up are as great achievements as the physical ones. Since coming back from Curaçao, Alexandra has the need, highly visible and very distinctive, to articulate and answer verbally. Using pictograms isn’t as interesting as it was before. I was very excited about Ella’s resume, that she, being a therapist, was totally surprised about the child’s great achievements during such an intensive training.

As parents, we could only try to understand what our children could experience with the help of the dolphins. On Saturday, it was time for the whole family to swim. Parents and siblings had the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. Our “therapy kids” were looked after by the interns.

This incredibly beautiful dolphin experience for the whole family was topped off by the fantastic stay on Curaçao. The apartments are very huge and beautifully furnished – you can’t help yourself but feeling comfortable. The pool area and beach just make you want to dive in. Nearby you can find the Royal Resort Restaurant which is open all day long. The menu includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Kiki (Kuhnert) was able to get a 20 % discount for all meals for the dolphin aid families. The sea aquarium is very spacious and beautiful, the guided tours and explanations are very interesting. Every day, there was something new to explore.

Willemstad, the capital, is six kilometres away and can quickly be reached by bus or taxi. There are two supermarkets nearby that have everything you need. dolphin aid organised a shuttle service for every Wednesday and Saturday so that you can easily take care of the grocery shopping.

During our stay, Kirsten Kuhnert (Kiki) kept on thanking us for coming. But it’s us who will be eternally grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and the – in every way – successful stay.

The new therapy centre CDTC sets new standards in therapy and doesn’t rank behind any established therapy centre in any way. Witnessing the free interaction between dolphin and patient are touching moments the therapist can deduce new therapeutic approaches from.

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