April Milan grew up in Portland, Oregon and began volunteering as a summer camp counselor with the Muscular Dystrophy Association at the age of 16. She has returned to Oregon’s MDA Summer Camp on Mt. Hood for the past 18 years providing leadership and education for the new volunteers while continuing to be a camp counselor for a young woman with Intermediate (Type II) Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
April received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology in 1995 from Washington University in St. Louis. April then entered physical therapy school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, earning her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 1998.
April spent the next seven years working in Los Angeles, California treating both orthopedic and neurologic pediatric conditions. She earned her Pediatric Clinical Specialist Certification (PCS) from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in 2006.
In 2005, April moved home to Portland, Oregon where she performed inpatient therapy at Oregon Health Science University. Her primary role at OHSU was providing physical therapy in the various intensive care units including Level I Trauma, Neuro, Cardiothoracic, and Medical ICU’s.
April joined the USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association) Sports Medicine team in late 2006 and is currently the Resident PT. Her role is to support all US Ski and Snowboarding teams by providing rehabilitation to their world class athletes. In 2008, April became a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA Certification Commission. When April is not prescribing exercises to world class athletes, she enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing in the pristine beauty of Utah’s mountains.
On a whim in the summer of 1988, I decided to volunteer as a summer camp counselor for MDA. I had never worked with a child with a disability before, and my only exposure had been in high school seeing the teenagers with Down Syndrome come and go. They were not integrated into our classes or activities, and we were never given a chance to understand and enjoy one another, so MDA’s summer camp was definitely a new experience. The camp was seven days overnight with one counselor per camper , and the campers were from six to 21 years old. Some campers were able to walk and talk, others had little to no verbal or physical skills, and a few were on ventilators with full time nursing care. At 16 years of age, I quickly learned how to facilitate independence, set limits, have fun, and charge a power wheelchair all at once.
During the 18 years that I have volunteered at MDA Summer Camp, I have come to appreciate how challenging it is to be a family-member of a child with neuromuscular disease. You have to take on roles as caregiver, parent, advocate, teacher, facilitator, therapist (speech, physical , occupational, behavioral), van driver, and wheelchair mechanic all the while trying to provide for your family, parent your other children, manage a career, and somehow find personal balance.
Over the many years of MDA summer camp, I learned about the progression of common dystrophies such as Duchenne’s and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. As a pediatric physical therapist , this first hand knowledge of disease progression prepared me for working with families of children with Duchenne’s and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I’ve been able to predict how a child will progress functionally and in turn help families prepare for their child’s first wheelchair, spinal surgery, adaptive van purchase, and integration into regular class settings. However when it comes to undiagnosed and rare neuromuscular diseases, I’ve been challenged as a therapist to help families to help their children. Not knowing what to expect with children with congenital muscular dystrophy, I’ve pulled out all of my therapist tricks from Sensory Integration to energy conservation and Neuro-Developmental Treatment, and I’ve been surprised with the results. Children that I never expected to walk ended up learning to walk, and those that I thought would not integrate well into regular class settings ended up doing so. As a therapist, I know that a CMD registry is the first step for families and healthcare providers to begin to understand this collection of neuromuscular diseases and to learn how to help our children with CMD.