If Howard A. Rusk, MD, who founded NYU Langone Health’s Rusk Rehabilitation 75 years ago as the world’s first comprehensive medical training program in rehabilitation medicine, could see 18-month-old Ryan Ahn Joelson in action, he would find proof of his belief that people with disabilities produce their own miracles. If he could witness the multidisciplinary team that tends to Ryan’s every need, he would be heartened that his philosophy of “caring for the whole person” endures.

Ryan was born at Tisch Hospital, eight weeks premature and with no detectable heart rate, on January 17, 2022. The 4.4-pound infant was resuscitated and then transferred to its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), tethered to breathing and feeding tubes. Ryan was diagnosed with congenital myotonic dystrophy, a rare neuromuscular disease that causes severe weakness and breathing difficulties.

Therapists began treating Ryan in the NICU, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, to help him thrive as early as possible. At the age of 10 months, he was stable enough to begin a comprehensive outpatient pediatric rehabilitation program. In coordination with Patricia T. Tan, MD, medical director of Rusk Rehabilitation’s pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation service, and neurologist Mary-Lynn Y. Chu, MD, director of the Elly Hammerman Center for the Treatment of Neuromuscular Disorders at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital, a team of physical, occupational, speech, and swallowing therapists developed a care plan to maximize Ryan’s capabilities. At the hospital, he receives various therapies, including pool exercises, three days a week. His mother, Jennifer Ahn, often attends the sessions so that she and her husband, Andrew, both physicians, can ensure continuity of care at home to accelerate Ryan’s developmental progress.

“Ryan’s therapists are wonderful. They believe in him to reach his fullest potential. I can’t imagine where we’d be without them.”
—Jennifer Ahn, Ryan's Mom

“Play is the most meaningful occupation of childhood because that’s how children learn and discover,” explains occupational therapist Kristen Olwell. “Ryan is incredibly motivated by play, which we use to improve his strength and motor skills,” adds physical therapist Jessica Hubert. Ryan can now sit up independently, which allows him to visualize and interact with his environment, both critical to his development.

“Ryan’s therapists are wonderful,” says his mother. “They believe in him to reach his fullest potential. I can’t imagine where we’d be without them.”

Dr. Tan believes that Rusk’s deep commitment to patients and their families explains why it’s consistently ranked the No. 1 rehabilitation program in New York State and one of the top 5 in the country by U.S. News & World Report. “This is the beauty of Rusk Rehabilitation—treating mind, body, and spirit,” she says. “In less than a year, Ryan’s progress has been amazing. At this rate, he’s going to surprise all of us.”

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