By MIKE REUTHER
With his wheelchair, Rikky Foresman shoots like a bullet across the play area of the Children's Development Center in Williamsport, a smile creasing his face.
Rikky Foresman, 4, waits for a ball to be thrown to him in the ball pit at the Children’s Development Center in Williamsport last Tuesday. Rikky was born with spina bifida. He also has hip dysplasia and kidney reflux. Rikky's family is raising money for stem cell treatments.
Out of the chair, he slides across the floor on his belly, digging his forearms into the floor to move his body with a quickness that seems unreal for someone with a serious physical condition.
"He's very healthy for a kid with spina bifida," said his mother, Lizz Foresman, of Williamsport. "Other than that, he is a very typical 4-year-old."
Lizz and her husband, Rik, consider Rikky a blessing in their lives.
Never mind that Rikky, their youngest of four children has a birth defect that brings with it a whole host of unwelcome symptoms.
"He's changed me," said Rik. "He's made me a better person. He's taught me to love life."
When Lizz was just 20 months pregnant, the couple found out that Rikky had spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the bones of the spine do not form properly around the baby's spinal cord.
They were horrified when they were advised to terminate the pregnancy.
Lizz went ahead and gave birth to Rikky Sept. 16, 2009.
Of course, there were complications.
Rikky was just a day old when he underwent surgery to repair the spinal cord and close an opening in his back. A few days later, he underwent additional surgery to place a shunt in his head to drain excess fluid from the brain.
Since then, he's had operations to fix hip dysplasia.
Paralysis below his knees forces him to get around in a wheelchair.
In addition, he has kidney reflux.
"It means urine goes back into his kidneys," Lizz said. "He gets a lot of urinary tract functions."
The exact cause of spina bifida is unknown.
Symptoms of spina bifida can be either mild or severe.
For many children with mild spina bifida, there may be no symptoms.
Rikky displays some of the common symptoms of a more severe case.
Now, the couple is planning to travel to the Nova Cells Institute in Mexico for Rikky to undergo a stem cell treatment.
It's hoped that the treatment will help bring about normal bladder function for Rikky.
Lizz said the procedure has proven successful for many people.
The Nova Cells program only works with adult (nonembryonic) stem cells derived from the human umbilical cord including blood and Wharton's Jelly, the placenta, as well as those harvested from a patient's own tissues such as bone marrow (but not fat tissue), according to the Nova Cells Institute website.
The couple have been happy with the way the community has come out in support of Rikky, raising money for his medical needs through various fundraisers.
Meanwhile, Rikky continues to have special needs.
He undergoes physical therapy twice a week, including one day at the Children's Development Center, as well as massage therapy.
On Aug. 10, he had a procedure to adjust the shunt in his brain.
Children's Development Center physical therapist Denise Lorson said Rikky has come a long way since he was a baby.
"He's been through a lot," she said. "We have been working with him with a walker."
The couple is hopeful that Rikky eventually can walk on his own and enjoy a life free of many of the symptoms brought on by spina bifida.
Still, in many ways, Rikky remains like any other small child - happy, energetic.
"He loves people," said his mother. "He loves to socialize. He will roll right up to people and say hello."
Rikky also is a bright child, testing in the 99th percentile for intelligence.
"Raising Rikky has changed me for the better," said his father. "It has made me more compassionate toward others."