Cerebral Palsy Procedure Helps 4-Year-Old Take His First Steps

From the time Logan Ellingsworth was born in June 2007, it was clear he was a fighter. Born prematurely with a variety of health issues from exposure to methamphetamines while in utero, Logan had a difficult journey ahead.

Brenda and Randy Ellingsworth, Logan’s grandmother and grandfather who adopted him after he was born, remember the first time they saw him in the intensive care unit at the hospital.

“Out of all the babies in the room, I was surprised to see that one was actually raising his head up as if to see who was coming in,” said Brenda. “I asked the nurse, ‘Who’s this little curious one?’ She said, ‘That is your precious little grandson and he is going to be a fighter.’  I started to cry because at that moment, we knew he was going to have major obstacles to overcome.”

The First Step: Facing Cerebral Palsy

Among the host of medical issues Logan faced, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder of the brain that affects muscle tone and the ability to coordinate body movements. It is caused by an injury to the brain, which can occur when a child is born prematurely.

He had a spastic form of cerebral palsy, which causes stiff and difficult movement. His legs and feet were very stiff and he didn’t have any range of motion in them.

“We were told he may never walk, crawl, talk or sit without assistance,” said Brenda. “I have to say I was devastated, but I knew we had to keep strong and encourage him.”

Despite the bleak diagnosis, Logan’s fighting spirit could not be quashed and by the time he was 2, he was determined to walk. Receiving therapy for motor skills and speech, he started talking and learning to walk with the help of a walker and crutches, and then he could surprisingly walk on his tip toes from one piece of furniture to another.

While he made great strides in his development, doctors told the family that walking would continue to be difficult and he would likely need to rely on a wheelchair within the next few years.

In order to find out what more could be done, Logan was then referred to Seattle Children’s Hospital to see Dr. Susan Apkon, director of Rehabilitation Medicine and specialist in the care of children with cerebral palsy.

The Second Step: Finding Hope in Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy

It was at Seattle Children’s where Apkon introduced the family to neurosurgeon Dr. Samuel Browd and the idea of a procedure called selective dorsal rhizotomy. Apkon and Browd felt Logan was a prime candidate for the procedure, which is a surgery done on the lower spinal cord where certain nerves are cut to permanently reduce spasticity in the legs. Extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy is required following surgery to increase strength and muscle control.

“Logan was now 4 years old and we knew if we were going to do this, now was the time to try and give him the best chance in life,” said Brenda.

His surgery went very well and Logan spent three weeks at Seattle Children’s going through rehabilitation, which was followed by intense physical therapy at home.

“Every day we watched Logan get stronger with all the therapists’ help and devotion, and Logan’s drive to give it his all,” said Brenda.

Three weeks after they were home from the hospital, Brenda was resting on the couch and what happened next was something she will never forget.

It is a miracle…I want other parents out there with kids like Logan to know that there is hope. Brenda Ellingsworth

Logan came over to her and said, “Mama watch! I’m going to walk!” Skeptical since it was so soon after surgery, Brenda and Randy watched in amazement as he took one step, two steps, three steps and on up to 35 steps.

“I jumped up and started cheering and crying,” said Brenda. “It is a miracle and I am so thankful to everyone who has been part of his tremendous treatment and recovery. I want other parents out there with kids like Logan to know that there is hope.”

Stepping Into the Future

Fast forward to today – Logan, now 5, continues daily physical therapy to build strength and is walking as much as he can. He is doing things he has never done before like riding his tricycle, bowling, playing miniature golf and climbing. He is always laughing and smiling and never gives up when taking on a new challenge.

His doctors are smiling, too.

“Logan looks fantastic and I am amazed by his progress,” said Apkon. “His stride has greatly improved as his steps are much longer and he’s flatter on his feet.”

“It’s just amazing to see him come in after surgery and walk down the hall,” said Browd. “You can’t ask for a better day than that.”

So Tell Me More: Cerebral Palsy/Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common developmental disability in the United States. It affects one to two children in every 1,000 born.

Spastic CP is the most common form and affects about 80% of people with CP. Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) surgery is one possible treatment option. A child is a good candidate for the surgery if they are somewhat able to walk either with assistance or independently, if they have spastic diplegia where muscle stiffness is mainly in the legs, and the child and the family are able to participate in prolonged therapy following surgery.

The goal of the surgery is to maximize a child’s movement and independence by identifying and cutting the nerve fibers that are causing the abnormal tone, or stiffness. Surgery is then followed by prolonged rehabilitation and therapy in order to increase a child’s strength and muscle control, with a focus on walking.

Seattle Children’s is one of the leading hospitals in the country – and the only one in the Pacific Northwest – that offers this treatment option. Children’s has a unique, comprehensive team of doctors, surgeons and rehabilitation therapists who determine if this treatment option is appropriate for a child.


  • Learn more about selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR)