How did you discover the NAPA Centre in LA?
Our daughter Georgia was born in 2007. Her birth was horrific and very poorly handled, resulting in her suffering a severe lack of oxygen for a prolonged period. She was given the devastating diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy when she was just seven days old. My husband, Mick, and I were living in Singapore at the time, and did the standard physiotherapy for a while that was recommended by both Singapore and Australian consultants for children with CP.
But we had a nagging feeling that there was so much more out there and started searching the globe for someone, or somewhere that could help her. Our search eventually brought us to the NAPA Centre (Neurological and Physical Abilitation Centre) in Los Angeles, California. So when Georgia was 2 years old, we flew half way around the world to initially spend 3 weeks with them. After 3 days, we extended our trip to nearly 3 months with them. NAPA is an amazing clinic. It gave us new hope that we could make a huge difference to Georgia’s otherwise grim future. Families travel from all over the US and the globe to come to NAPA.
Did you have to travel to the USA often?
We have travelled to the US a number of times especially to go to NAPA. Not only that, as a family over the past 5 years we have helped to bring NAPA to both Singapore and Australia for pop-up travelling clinics. We love to travel to LA and the NAPA Clinic there, but as Georgia has grown older, big overseas trips are more difficult (aeroplanes are fairly hopeless for accessibility), and we now have to work around school commitments. The LA team regularly fly out to Australia now as the clinic is growing, to ensure that the experience and high therapy standard in both clinics is the same for our families. From the business perspective we are on regular international conference calls, and the iCloud and dropbox systems are a godsend.
What made you bring it to Australia?
NAPA is amazing and there is nothing else quite like it in Australia (or in the world really). We had made the move back to Australia in 2014 so Georgia could join mainstream schooling, as this was not possible in Singapore. As a family, we found in general disability services in Australia very disjointed, slow, significantly under-funded and very conservative in approach, lots of box-ticking but not a lot of actual doing. It makes very little difference to kid’s outcomes if that is how you service disability.
Over the years of being NAPA clients, we had developed a very special friendship with the founder of NAPA, Lynette LaScala – also a Mum of a child with Cerebral Palsy. She is the most amazing and driven person, who created the NAPA Centre, as she too was frustrated with the standard offering to children with neurological issues in the US. We knew we could work together, but it was finding the right time to make it happen.
We wanted NAPA in Australia as it was intrinsic to our daughter’s progress and future, and so did the 1000’s of other children here, who needed to know what true early intervention and intensive therapy was really like. We became co-owners of NAPA Australia in 2015 with the LaScala family, and we were thrilled to finally open the doors of the new clinic here in Lane Cove in early 2016.
NAPA is a place of hope and positivity, where a team truly does come together help bring out the brightest potential in every child. We are so excited to be part of the new future for special needs children in Australia.
Do you have a medical background?
Ha – no, I’m a graphic designer in my former life. But, as a parent to a special needs child, I can tell you my medical knowledge is now huge! I have spent so much time with GPs, in hospitals, seeing Neurologists, paediatricians, orthopaedics, physios, OTs, speech pathologists etc etc (the list is endless) that I am now very well versed in human development, medications and procedures relating to cerebral palsy. I also research extensively, and regularly consult the real brains trust – other parents of special needs children! Now running the NAPA Clinic, I have a new level of respect for medical office managers. It is a really demanding and complex job.
What is the main focus of the NAPA programme? What makes it different?
NAPAs strength is its intensive therapy programs and the breadth of therapy techniques we can offer. They are truly world leaders in intensive therapy. Our intensives run for 3 weeks at a time, with children doing on average 3-5 hours a day of therapy. It’s hard work, but makes such a huge difference to the kids in a short period of time.
We are also parent owned and designed. I think having people who run the company that actually understand what life is like to have a child with a disability makes an enormous difference for the families who join the NAPA program.
Our biggest point of difference though is our wonderful therapists. NAPA only employ the best paediatric therapists from many disciplines – physio, occupational and speech therapy, and conductive education – who work cohesively together to plan and execute an individual, ongoing and effective rehabilitation program for children with all levels of neurological issues – from fixing an incorrect walking pattern, to working with children with extremely complex and involved movement and medical issues.
All NAPA therapists have graduated from top universities both in Australia and the US, have post-grad qualifications, have experience in paediatric therapy before we will employ them, and they are also required to do many months of extra training in Los Angeles because of the way they work together and the range of skills they need to know. Our therapists roll up their sleeves, get down on the floor and really work with the kids. But, not only are they are driven, knowledgeable, and highly skilled, they are great fun, loving, care deeply about the kids, and they make it an inspiring experience for the children to reach their milestones. The children work super hard, but have a great time and don’t want to leave!
Do you receive any government funding?
As a business, we don’t. We are a private clinic. But our families are able to offset the costs of our programs as we are BetterStart, private health and Medicare registered, and we are NDIS ready.
Are you taking on more clients and how do clients find out about your services?
We try to see as many new children as we can. Our Intensives are very full until the end of this year, but we are able to add children to our waitlists, and we are increasing our therapy staff during this year so we can help more kids. The NAPA reputation of excellence is strong, so we grow through word of mouth from parents recommending us. Special needs parents are tough critics, so their recommendation really is the best form of advertising.
What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
Where do I start? Watching a child who has been told they will never walk take their first steps, hearing a child say their first word aged 5, watching children who were given no hope beam with their newly learnt skills. It makes you cry happy tears almost daily. And meeting the AMAZING and driven families behind these beautiful children is a big highlight. I make lifetime friendships every 3 weeks. We truly have a global NAPA family, where we all share the joys, stresses, highs and lows of special needs parenting. Helping to open NAPA in Australia has truly changed my life.
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