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Stepping up to support Cerebral Palsy

STEPtember 2022 

Two women walking towards the camera
SydneyConnect ImageDr Rebecca Barzegar and Dr Shankari Arunanthy

Staff across Sydney Local Health District are being encouraged to step up to raise awareness about cerebral palsy (CP), with research into early diagnosis and intervention key to improving outcomes for children living with CP.

Doctors Shankari Arunanthy and Rebecca Barzegar, specialists at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at RPA, are among more than 150 staff who have joined the Cerebral Palsy Alliance's STEPtember campaign.

The NICU's multidisciplinary team cares for premature babies or those with a serious illness - including those at risk of CP - from birth until eight-years-old.

"When people think of CP they imagine that kid at school who didn't walk quite right, had a crutch, or adults in a wheelchair. They don't really understand where it comes from or who is at risk of it," Rebecca, a neonatologist, said.

CP is caused by damage to a baby's developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. CP affects movement and posture, and is the most common physical disability in childhood. The Alliance states one in every 700 babies in Australia are diagnosed with CP every year.

"The majority of kids we see may not have obvious physical disabilities, but cerebral palsy affects their lives from the minute they're born and affects families, communities and schools. It's a huge part of our community and population," Shankari, a neurodevelopment paediatrician, said.

The NICU links families to services and programs provided through organisations, such as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, to help them on their journey.

"Early diagnosis and intervention can make a big difference. We work with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance to provide more intensive support for children at high risk and to continue therapy through family-centred care," Shankari said.

"We are invested in our families. We can follow up and link in with them as they grow up, through the team at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance," Rebecca said.

The NICU is involved in extensive research to improve the healthcare outcomes for babies under their care, with research considered an integral part of clinical care.

Shankari and Rebecca are passionate about STEPtember, because it supports important research into CP.

"The more we learn, the more impact we have on our babies. Any time in the Newborn Care Nursery we would have at least five or six trials and our involvement is from beginning to the very end - looking at outcomes and data," Shankari said.

"Lots of things that we do come from multi-centre and multi-national studies from all over the world. It can be difficult to explore such a sensitive area, so we work collaboratively, gathering as much information that we can," Rebecca said.

During STEPtember, participants aim to take at least 10 000 steps a day and help to fundraise for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for equipment and to fund research, therapy and services.

There's still time to register for STEPtember: https://www.steptember.org.au/