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For the sickest children who rely on life-sustaining technology – a calming touch helps them breathe a little easier.

Outside they swing happily, freely. An adapted playground hints at the more complex equipment housed inside Maryville’s Children’s Healthcare Center.

There’s room for 12 – all classified as medically fragile. The young patients rely on respirators, pumps and monitors to keep them alive and well. This is transitional care – the children stay until they’re stable enough to go home and their parents or caretakers are well practiced in the constant care they require. And amidst all the technology – a simpler, soothing form of therapy.

Karen Selph, massage therapist: “I’m a massage therapist. I love seeing the kids respond.”

Her joy is obvious. Karen Selph spends two days a week at Maryville sharing her soft touch.

Karen Selph: “These children here have more issues with anxiety and stress. And the purpose here is really to reduce the suffering that goes on.”

Jonathan is an active 7-year-old boy born with a neurological disorder that leaves him prone to seizures. Today’s massage seems to quiet his mind.

Karen Selph: “On a medically fragile child, you have to keep in mind what their diagnoses are, what their limitations are.”

He’s unable to speak, yet Christopher clearly communicates. His legs weakened from lack of mobility, the pressure eases the aches and pains.

Karen Selph: “You can sense it in their little bodies and their muscles. When you touch them you can sense their anxiety and stress, and it takes some time to get to know them and their bodies and how they react.”

And then there’s Daniel. The one-year-old was born with a narrowed esophagus that prevents him from swallowing food properly. Karen regularly works with Daniel and, perhaps for a few minutes, takes his mind off the discomfort of his round the clock routine.

Karen Selph: “You really sense a relaxation and an acceptance of the touch that you’re giving them.”

Like many of the services provided at Maryville, the massage program was made possible by grant money. You can learn more about the care provided at the Children’s Healthcare Center at:

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