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Back In Action: 5-Year-Old With Neuroblastoma Learns To Walk Again

In January 2020, three-year-old Lucas Kelling was diagnosed with stage 4, high-risk neuroblastoma — a rare, aggressive cancer that attacks the nerves that branch off of the central nervous system. To combat the disease, Lucas, who lives in Chardon, endured numerous chemotherapy treatments, a 12-hour tumor resection and two stem cell transplants.

The therapies that were fighting the cancer took a toll on Lucas and caused him to spend most of June 2020 to March 2021 at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. His hospital stay, coupled with complications from stem cell transplants, kept Lucas in his hospital bed for the majority of that time.

“Lucas was quite sick and slept a lot. He didn’t really have the strength to be the kid he was,” says Lucas’ mom, Jamie Kelling. “He lost all of his core strength and most of his ability to walk during the course of his stay in the hospital.”

Soon after his discharge, and after he gained some strength back, Lucas was referred to Cleveland Clinic Children’s Mobility Program for physical therapy.

“Lucas was unable to stand upright, walk without support and had very impaired balance. He had significantly decreased strength in all extremities and his endurance was very poor. He had tightness in his ankles, a common side effect of his medications,” says Julie Nowicki, PT, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Mobility Program.

Lucas went to physical therapy (PT) twice a week and focused on standing, balance, transitions and walking with a walker. As he made progress, he was given added challenges like body weight strengthening exercises and activities using TheraBand. Lucas was always willing to try new exercises and enjoyed using the Bosu Ball for balance, dynamic balance surfaces for stability and yoga poses.

Back in action: 5-year-old with neuroblastoma learns to walk again - Lucas Kelling
Lucas Kelling

“I told Lucas if he wanted to play soccer in the fall he’d have to work for it,” says Jamie.

And work he did — even doing exercises at home for increased improvement. Home exercises included ankle stretching, animal walks (walking like a crab, bear, frog, flamingo or duck), and most importantly, playing with siblings and friends.

“My favorite was walking like a bear. It was fun having to use my arms and legs to walk,” laughs Lucas.

Lucas’ PT gradually decreased to weekly therapy sessions as progress was made and then transitioned to monthly follow up care as progress continued. Lucas currently goes to PT every few months to ensure there’s ongoing progress and to revise his home exercise program.

“Lucas has made incredible gains in his strength, range of motion, endurance and balance since starting physical therapy. He’s staying active with recreational activities,” says Julie.

Five-year-old Lucas is now back to being a fun-loving kid. He’s kicking goals in soccer, playing with his siblings and can’t wait to go swimming this summer.

“Lucas really enjoys his sessions with Julie. She makes PT fun for him. Julie is the reason my son is walking again and I can’t thank her enough for giving that back to him,” says Jamie.

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