Father gives gift of mobility to toddler son with spina bifida

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AUDRAIN COUNTY -- A mid-Missouri toddler with a debilitating birth defect is getting the gift of mobility from his father.

Two-year-old Brody Moreland gracefully maneuvers through his Centralia-area home. He rolls on his belly on a green-colored mobility device that's a mix between a skateboard and a wheelchair. His new mode of transportation lets him move and crawl.

Brody's father, Taylor Moreland, invented the Frog. Brody was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from his ribs down.

Before the device, Brody was relegated to the floor for play time.

"He laid there. He couldn't get to his toys," Taylor said.

Brody sometimes also uses a small wheelchair to get around, but his parents still found that limiting.

"It became more than just movement, more than just mobility. It was a certain sense of renewed independence," Taylor Moreland said.

He and his wife, Ally, said there was a moment they lost track of their son because he was in the Frog. After an initial panic, they felt relieved. They felt a sense a normalcy they had never experienced before.

"Parents who have children who are mobile on their own, it’s one of those things that you don’t want them to go to far to get in trouble," he said. "We wanted that."

Ally Moreland said she also celebrated the first time Brody made his own mess.

"At first, I was so excited," she said, recounting that she posted to social media about it.

She's changed her tune since.

"I was like, 'Brody know you can’t do that anymore. It’s not cute anymore,'" she chuckled.

Brody's parents said since he started using the Frog a few months ago, his cognitive development has improved. They want to share that with other families.

"Whenever we first created the Frog, we just thought it was something for Brody," Taylor said, figuring there was already this type of product on the market.

After they found out there were none, his son's physical therapist asked if he could make some more for her clients.

Moreland is now trying to sell the Frog to families and health care professionals. The family has already collected almost $25,000 in an online fundraiser.


Brody is also seeing promising results from a new way of treating spina bifida.

Gerti Motavalli is a Columbia-based physical therapist who helps treat Brody. She was initially frustrated by a lack of progress that resulted from placing electrical stimulation electrodes on the boy's muscles. Motavalli then reached out to Dr. Gad Alon at the University of Maryland to see if she could try something new with Brody.

"We put the electrodes right over his spinal cord?" she recalled asking.

Motavalli said many health professionals are nervous about putting any electrodes over the spinal cord.

She said Alon assured her there was not a concern of hurting Brody. The Morelands were on board.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Taylor Moreland asked hypothetically. "We don't see any new movement. That’s where we are already at and any little thing that we gained would be amazing."

So for an hour a day at home, Brody gets e-stim treatment to try and improve his muscle function. Electrodes are placed over his spinal cord and on his feet.

Three-to-four times a week, Motavalli places even more electrodes on Brody. There, while Motavalli fires the e-stim, Brody tries to pull himself up and stand on his own.

"We basically are trying to make the connection between his brain, his spinal cord, his nerves and his muscles so that he understands when the muscles will need to kick in in order to stand. We do the same thing with walking, it's even more complicated," Motavalli said.

Brody's shown signs of progress, which includes feeling sensations from things like ice, pressure and pin pricks.

That progress has been chronicled as a case study and published in Child Neurology Open.

"It's just life-changing," Ally Moreland said. "He couldn't hold his head up and now look at him."

She said every treatment is a learning experience for the toddler.

"Maybe he won't be able to walk, but maybe he'll know that 'this hurts and I shouldn't do it,' so that's extremely important. Right?"

Motavalli has begun using the e-stim program on her other child clients. So, while his movement is still labored, Brody is leading the way.