A special boy receives specialized treatment at Newark hospital's pediatric center

By Barry Carter/Star-Ledger
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on October 03, 2013

Under the guidance of physical therapist Angela Mueller, Joshua Lyons stops a rolling soccer ball with is feet. Joshua, 5, has had 19 brain surgeries to treat epilepsy and his recovering is in large part to therapy from Children's Specialized Hospital. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)


NEWARK — Joshua Lyons lays on his back, chatting up a storm with his physical therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Newark.

As she stretches his legs on the big blue mat, getting him ready for a workout, he’s going on about homework. Then he shifts to Chuck E. Cheese, the giant singing mouse he wants to hug the next time he’s at Chuck E.’s house.

"Like this," Joshua says, hugging himself, rocking back and forth.

He makes a fish face next, sucking in his cheeks, poking out his lips. Angela Mueller, his therapist, laughs with him.

The kid is a joy to watch. You can’t teach the enthusiasm he wakes up with every day. His grandmother, Audrey Lyons, says Joshua was born happy, and every ounce of sunshine in his heart has served him well, considering what this 5-year-old has been through.

Four days after he was born in a New York hospital, Joshua was hemorrhaging on the brain. Lyons saw the pain in her grandson, his body stiffening like a corpse when he’d cry. He’s had 24 operations since then, 19 of them cranial procedures to treat epilepsy and hydrocephalus, a condition that has weakened his right side.

He has cerebral palsy, too, and has suffered a stroke, but nothing stops this adorable youngster. His round, dark eyes make you smile and cheer for him. He’s his own band, his own drum major, flag twirler and stadium filled with thousands of Joshuas who are 3 feet tall and 34 pounds.

"Every day is the best day of my life," he says.

His medical team handles the rest, steadily monitoring his progress ever since he came to the specialized hospital three years ago.

Joshua wound up in Newark when his grandmother wasn’t satisfied with the treatment he was getting in New York. She quit her job as a social worker and moved here because she learned the specialized hospital was what Joshua needed and its pediatric unit was 20 minutes away, in Mountainside.

"When I walk through those doors, it’s like I’m at home," she said.

Last week, the hospital opened a pediatric outpatient center in Newark, across the street from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, cutting down on travel time for Joshua and Lyons. It’s a sorely needed facility for urban children with health issues like Joshua’s. Some of the kids have brain injuries, autism or developmental disabilities — all conditions that need special care.

Hospital officials say 520 kids from Newark and 600 from Elizabeth were going to its pediatric facilities in Mountainside and Bayonne. With the new center — funded in part with a $500,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey — these kids can get treatment closer to home.

"We’re expecting even more (children)," said Patricia Foley, the hospital’s vice president of outpatient services. "We anticipate 1,500 to 2,000 new kids from interviewing families and knowing the needs of the children in Essex County."

Joshua is at the center three times a week and the work of his medical team shows. He’s gone from a lethargic, often-hospitalized kid to one who can’t stay still, even with a limp caused by the stroke.

Lyons, who is raising Joshua, notices her grandson is a bit more antsy at therapy this week. She knows that look — the bathroom look.

He calls Lyons mommy, because her daughter, sadly, didn’t want him after she gave birth. Lyons, already a mother of six, wouldn’t let him be raised by the system.

She is sensitive to his needs — paying special attention to the bulge in his head. There’s a pump just underneath the skin that has to be pressed when fluid builds up around his brain.

She knows her son, so the routine potty break beats a hospital stay any day.

"I’m back," he tells his therapist. "I’m ready for action."

Mueller has him walk upright on his knees, testing the leg he favors, then on all fours like a grizzly bear.

"Grrrrr," Joshua says.

He stands up, one leg at a time, and walks up a cushy staircase, then slides down a ramp.

"On your mark." His eyes get big. "Get set." He scrunches his shoulders to his neck. "Goooo.’’

At the bottom, he jumps over inch high plastic bars, working that leg again.

"I can do it by myelf," he says, flexing his tiny arms toward his shoulders like a mighty muscle man.

Lyons said Joshua is at his best now. His speech is no longer jibberish. He can button his shirt, zip his coat, things that were once difficult.

He’s in kindergarten, writing his ABC’s so, as he puts it, he can be the smart "rock star."

From Lyons’ lap, he jumps down after the therapy session and moonwalks like Michael Jackson. He tilts his head the way Michael did and says — "Hee-Hee."

Music helps him get through it all. What sustains him most, though, is stronger than us.

"Give the glory to God,’’ he says, looking at his mother.

Before he leaves, everyone gets a hug. His therapist, the receptionist, the security guard gets some love, too.

"Everything is lovely," he said. "See you in two weeks.’’

He heads out the door, bopping along, his giddy-up taking him to the car around the corner.

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