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Published on June 28, 2012

Patient, Therapist Learn From One Another

To say Kate Mitchell is an artist is an understatement.

Kate Mitchell Carrie Sawulski

Carrie Sawulski & Kate Mitchell show off
one of Kate's drawings.

A senior at Greensboro's Weaver Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, she ranks in the top 10 percent of her class for her academic and artistic talents. Her art has been displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, where Congressman Brad Miller honored her with a Congressional Art Competition Judge's Special Merit Award for artistic excellence. One of her pen-and-ink drawings was used in an advertising campaign for ArtQuest, Green Hill Center's hands-on art studio in downtown Greensboro.

It is Kate's art that makes her special, not her disease. Kate has a rare form of muscular dystrophy that manifests itself in low muscle tone and an easily compromised respiratory system. Kate hasn't walked since she was in eighth grade. She rides her scooter through the hallways at Weaver, where she is the president of the National Honor Society and the 2012 Most Outstanding Art Student. Her mom, Melissa, says she functions at the high end of the disease.

Physical therapist Carrie Sawulski with the Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Center's Pediatric Unit absolutely agrees. Sawulski has worked with Kate since she was in kindergarten. Kate could walk then, and she had only been diagnosed with a nonspecific muscle myopathy. It wasn't until 2008 that Kate was diagnosed with Ulrich muscular dystrophy, a very rare condition.

Sawulski is considered a part of Kate's family and always reviews any adjustments to treatment plans or other medical information.

She's our sounding board for deciphering a lot of what we're told, Melissa says. She credits Sawulski for tracking down second opinions and verifying if treatments match what she knows about her special patient's exceptional personality.

She understands Kate's specific needs, Melissa says.

The best outcome is Kate's positive reaction to wearing hand splints that stretch her hand muscles. Because of her passion for art, Kate is equally passionate about her physical therapy.

And Kate has been an inspiration to Sawulski as well.

Kate's taught me a lot as a therapist. Our goals have changed over the years. When we have to modify our exercises, she knows no limits. She's an inspiration to do great things. Working with Kate has helped me as a professional,says Sawulski, who has worked with pediatric patients for more than 13 years.

While Kate won't experience the typical physical therapy gains of increased range of motion, increased strength and increased walking distances, Sawulski says she has continued to be thrilled with Kate's progress, even if it is unconventional.

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