Reeve Foundation Story of Impact: Sociedad, Educación y Rehabilitación (SER) de Puerto Rico, Inc.

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 07, 2018 # Quality of Life, Safety

“The news reports were unimaginable. When Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico last September, the devastation left behind was the worst natural disaster in the island’s history,” said Nilda Morales, president and CEO of SER de Puerto Rico.

Part of SER’s mission is to provide the best therapeutic alternatives and services possible to help children and adults with disabilities reach their maximum potential. It currently provides services to more than 4,600 participants annually from all over the island. So when the category 5 storm effectively wiped out the power grid and left millions without electricity for months, SER’s services were greatly impacted.

“The storm occurred in September and electric power wasn’t restored at SER de Puerto Rico until December,” said Morales. “Despite the hindrance, SER de Puerto Rico’s personnel continued offering therapeutic services to participants, to the extent possible, outdoors.”

Originally opened in 1950 to serve the increase in children diagnosed with Polio, SER's first rehabilitation center evolved to include the first specialized school for children with disabilities. SER is the only entity in Puerto Rico that provides therapy to individuals with a disability and K-12 education in the same facility. This allows students from the inclusive Guillermo Atiles Moreu School to receive the necessary therapies without falling behind on their educational responsibilities. Services are offered regardless of the ability to cover expenses and without restriction to medical insurance coverage limits.

After several expansions and updates, SER opened Puerto Rico’s only world-class Technological Pediatric Therapeutic Center in 2015. Aquatic therapy is an important part of SER’s offerings, especially for children with mobility challenges. The hurricane’s aftermath also interrupted SER’s Aquatic Therapy Center renovation that was already underway.

“Aquatic therapy allows for neuromuscular reeducation and strengthening, providing required motor and neurophysiological exercises in a comforting environment,” said Morales. “The water’s buoyancy provides freedom of movement, which is perfect for individuals who have restricted mobility due to neuromuscular conditions, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and spinal cord injury, among others.” Water resistance allows quicker muscular strength to occur. This combination is hard to duplicate elsewhere. The aquatic environment permits earlier detection of small neuromuscular movement and responses.

As part of the Aquatic Therapy Center renovation, SER needed to replace the 22-year-old manual lift. The new lift would help to ease the transition into the shallow pool and prevent injury for both the therapy participants and the therapists.

“I learned about the Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant program and it seemed like the perfect fit,” said Morales.

In early 2017, SER received a Quality of Life Grant to fund the acquisition of a hydraulic lift for the 50 by 25-foot outdoor swimming pool as well as aquatic therapy tools including aqua ring, noodles set, adjustable floats, swim bar, dumbbell pairs, swim belt, extremity float, ankle and wrist weights, and more.

“We purchased the lift and it took a long time to ship,” said Morales. “Luckily it arrived shortly before the hurricane and it had not yet been installed when the storm hit.”

The pool, which was in the middle of the renovation when the hurricane struck, suffered some damages due to debris. Lack of electric power made continuation of renovation efforts harder. A power generator had to be installed to return to normality at the organization and to allow the pool to circulate. More frequent maintenance was required for the pool during that time period.

Prior to the hurricane, the renovations were slated for completion in October. Now Morales is hoping for April. “We already have the trained therapist in our staff as well as the required tools to offer these therapies,” said Morales.

“We are extremely thankful to the Reeve Foundation for their generous support,” said Morales. “The new lift will be a large part of this renovation’s success. It is expected that 300 individuals with paralysis-causing conditions will be impacted by this project. Having the lift will truly make a significant difference in all their lives.”