13-year old Robin Andersson’s smile lights up the room. Although he is in a wheelchair because of his spastic cerebral palsy, his positive outlook and enthusiasm for life overshadows his physical issues. He has just finished the second of his four-week treatments at the Conductive Education Center of Sarasota/Bradenton and is eager to begin walking with the help of a walker.
His parents, Matias and Anke, have travelled to St. Petersburg from their home in Sweden for the benefit of Robin’s treatments. This is not the first Ronald McDonald House they have stayed in, having been guests at houses in Sweden, Orlando and New Jersey. But they exclaim that this house is by far the best. They have made friends at this house, including the Gillespies, whose daughter Axi also suffers from spastic cerebral palsy. They have compared notes and given each other tips on treatments for their children, one of the advantages of staying in a house with many other pediatric families.
Robin was born prematurely at 26 weeks, but was not diagnosed with this disease until he was 18 months old. His parents noticed that he was not reaching the milestones identified for toddlers, and took him specialists who diagnosed him with CP. He didn’t talk until he was four-years-old, so his parents learned sign language in an effort to communicate, which resulted in Robin beginning to speak. He loves music and enjoys singing, which has been a great help both to his English and also to his speech in general. It has been a long road for the Anderssons, who have sought treatment for Robin wherever they thought it would benefit him.
They traveled to New Jersey three years ago so that Robin could have specialized surgery that would slow the signals from his brain in order for his body to process them. Although the surgery was somewhat successful, they now wish they had taken him much sooner. The following year, Robin underwent hip surgery which kept him in the hospital for three months, while his parents stayed at The Ronald McDonald House in Orlando.
Online research led them to the Conductive Education Center of Sarasota, where the therapies they use have proven highly successful for Robin. Although there are treatment facilities in Sweden, nothing they have attempted has garnered the results they have seen with these treatments. Robin eagerly asks if he may stand for a photo, proudly posing between his parents for support. Now that he can see his own progress, he is eager to work on his therapy and do exercises once he returns home.
His dad Matias explains that the next three years are critical to Robin’s future development, since any advancement in his physical progress must be made before he reaches the age of 16. After that, progress will be minimal at best. He comments that Robin has been working hard every day of his treatment, breaking into a sweat with the effort. Robin had a dream that he would walk inside the Ronald McDonald House, and on the last day of his stay, he did just that, with the help of a walker. A photo of that event shows his face shining with the pride of that accomplishment.
The family will return for another four weeks of treatment this fall, if they can manage it. Matias is an electrical engineer and Anke is a counselor in a rehab facility for drug-addicted teens. It is not easy for the family to take so much time off of work, and save the money they need for the trip and a rental car once they are here. They are not wealthy people, and Matias has done his best to raise money by exporting cars to Europe for resale, before the exchange rates made that impossible. They would not be able to come if the Ronald McDonald House was not available for them during their stay. They are very grateful for everything the house has offered them, from the delicious meals to the supportive staff and volunteers.
While Robin will need treatment all of his life, the goal now is for him to become more mobile and self-sufficient. His parents both comment on the difficulties they have experienced with very limited handicap access throughout much of Europe. They also talk about how few charities exist in their home country of Sweden, and are thankful that the Ronald McDonald House there has been able to help them out.
Their life back home revolves around Robin, who attends grade five and enjoys his schooling. One of the highlights on this trip was the family’s visit to their first ever professional baseball game with the Tampa Bay Rays. Robin was delighted to ride the elevator at the stadium, since elevators are the great love of his life. He spends hours watching YouTube videos about elevators, and is very happy that the East House also has an elevator.
Both parents comment that the people in this area are so friendly and helpful. They love the house and find it very comfortable for their stay, even though they spend a great deal of their time traveling between Sarasota and St. Petersburg. They have greatly enjoyed spending time at the beach in their afternoons after Robin’s treatment, taking advantage of the wonderful weather before they return home to Sweden, which might only get into the mid 70s at the height of summer.
They are sad to return home to Sweden and look forward to their return visit in the fall. The staff are eager to see the Andersson family again, and see the progress that Robin will make in the next few months.