'Everyone is treated as if he is the only one here'

Thala becomes a gardener, and other out-of-the-box treatment at ALYN kids rehab

At Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility, creativity and dedication drive highly innovative and personalized care

Thala works in the garden with the devices created by Alyn hospital in Jerusalem to help her hold on to the tools (YouTube screen shot)
Thala works in the garden with the devices created by Alyn hospital in Jerusalem to help her hold on to the tools (YouTube screen shot)

Everywhere one looks, ALYN, Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility, gives the distinct impression that treatment takes place everywhere, not only in rooms designated for therapy.

Children, too, are everywhere. Some are in wheelchairs, others have leg braces, some zoom around on tricycles. Two ALYN workers motivate a little girl to keep pushing her feet on the pedals of a bicycle, while her mother watches from the side.

The hospital, in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, services around 300 people every day: children with congenital and acquired conditions, including cerebral palsy, brain injuries, terror-related injuries, and countless other medical conditions.

Down a flight from ALYN’s lobby is the Innovation Space, founded in May last year and geared to creating technologies that improve the lives of children with disabilities.

Eleven-year-old Thala, who was severely burned in a car accident and lost her fingers because of it, wanted to work in the ALYN therapeutic garden. But she couldn’t hold onto gardening tools with just one hand. So last month, Elinor Tal and Nevo Fryd, students at the Holon Institute of Technology Fixperts course, collaborated with workers at ALYN to find a solution for Thala.

They took her measurements and worked painstakingly on prototypes until they came up with a gripping device that attaches itself to her arms. Thala is shown in the video above working in the garden with both her hands, using the tools.

Uriel, a 13-year-old who suffered from cancer, had a device built that enabled him to put on his own tefillin and kippah at his bar mitzvah. When a wheelchair-bound child at the hospital daycare wanted to feed the animals in ALYN’s petting zoo, the Innovation Space created a device with which he could put food in a tube and press a button that let the food out near the animal.

Necessity, the mother of innovation

The innovation center runs two programs, PELE, which works on personalized solutions, including finding ways for children with physical disabilities to eat, dress, and communicate independently, and ALYNnovation, which assists entrepreneurs in developing products for children on a global scale that are affordable and attainable.

In a space of some 5,400 square feet, the Innovation space has a number of rooms: there is the prototyping laboratory, where entrepreneurs, volunteers, and employees can work on products; the fabric room, for products that need cushioning material; the 3D printing room; a conference room; a number of smaller offices; and a large central area with a table where everyone in the space can interact and share ideas.

Danna Hochstein Mann, Director of ALYNnovation at the ALYN hospital in Jerusalem (Ricky Rachman)

According to Danna Hochstein Mann, the director of ALYNnovation, the Innovation Space was born as a result of creative thinking at ALYN for the last eight decades. Before ALYN had access to a lot of the equipment that was used worldwide, hospital employees had to come up with their own solutions to patients’ needs. As a result, Mann said, “the hospital got used to not using off-the-shelf solutions, but… to innovating whatever they need.”

ALYN decided to open the Innovation Space, Mann explained, to “create a new revenue channel for the hospital, and at the same time, empower children around the world with disabilities.” Because ALYN is a private hospital, it provides a level of care that cannot be covered through insurance alone. ALYN recognized that the entrepreneurship already taking place in the hospital could be utilized commercially.

Startups, entrepreneurs, and individual volunteers choose to work at the Innovation Space because it gives them access to everything they need in the field of pediatric assistive technology, including the prototyping laboratory, the hospital’s business partnerships, consulting and pilot sessions, she explained. “Most importantly,” said Mann, “they get access to their target audience.”

Mann also explained that one of the advantages for startups of working within the hospital is that entrepreneurs are incentivized to meet their deadlines and keep the customer’s needs as their first priority. “Here the innovation starts with the patient. And when you’re working on a patient, and on a product that is about to change their life, it’s very hard to remove yourself from it.”

A chance to play, mobile

Even before the Innovation Space opened, ALYN was coming out with new and unique devices.

Child using one of the ALYN’s Wheelchairs of Hope (ALYN Hospital)

Wheelchairs of Hope, which ALYN developed with Pablo Kaplan and Chava Rothstein, launched a plastic wheelchair for children with disabilities in developing countries. The wheelchair costs less than $100; a manual wheelchair in the US costs $1,000-$5,000, explained Mann. More than 3,000 such wheelchairs have already been sold. The success of Wheelchairs of Hope, according to Mann, was a pivotal moment for ALYN in understanding how much the Innovation Space could be leveraged to benefit the hospital.

The Innovation Center is not the only place where creativity is in play. Outside of the Physical Therapy Center, for example, there is an outdoor play area and  garden. Though it looks just like any other playground, the space serves as a place for physical therapy as well, as it has different types of ground — rocks, grass, wood — which forces children to learn how to walk on various surfaces.

The physical therapy garden at ALYN (ALYN Hospital)

Within the Physical Therapy unit, there is also a pool for hydrotherapy. ALYN was the first hospital in the world to enable children with respirators to receive hydrotherapy, said Mann. The respirator sits on a tray connected to an arm, which can move with the child as he or she swims nearby.

Child with respirator doing hydrotherapy in ALYN pool (ALYN Hospital)

At the hospital, children ride around on custom-adjusted bicycles given to them by the hospital with their own names on the labels. In the Rehab Educational Medical Day Care Center, there is a class of students who can’t speak, so each child has a computer they can speak through.

Ido Kaslasi in physical therapy at ALYN, on July 3, 2018 (Ariella Gentin)

Tali Kaslasi’s son, Ido, 13, underwent surgery last August that left him completely paralyzed, leading him to therapy at ALYN. Very quickly, said Kaslasi, she realized that at ALYN “everyone is treated as if he is the only one here.” Ido comes for therapy at ALYN five days a week. After nine months, Ido can stand, sit by himself, and walk with a walker.

“It’s really an amazing place,” said Kaslasi. “We love coming here.”

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