South Florida Baptist Hospital Offers Pediatric Aquatic Therapy

PLANT CITY, Fla.  – July 22, 2016 – There has been a lot of activity at the Walden Lake Golf and Country Club pool on Friday mornings this summer.  But it is not swim team practice or Country Club members cooling off from the blazing heat. It is the patients of the pediatric rehabilitation department who are receiving aquatic therapy from South Florida Baptist Hospital.

Physical Therapist Carolina Goicoechea earned aquatic therapy certification two years ago and has been anxiously waiting for the opportunity to share the knowledge with her patients. Her patience finally paid off when South Florida Baptist Hospital made arrangements with Walden Lake to use the pool for aquatic therapy.  Sessions began May 13.

As long as Goicoechea was going to be using the pool for physical therapy sessions, David Davenport, South Florida Baptist Hospital Rehabilitation manager, thought, “Why not use it for occupational and speech therapy, too?  This is groundbreaking and revolutionary, as I have never seen speech therapy in a pool.”

Tiffany Gutierrez, speech therapist, confirmed Davenport’s hunch. “The pool is a very relaxing, yet motivating environment which has improved participation in speech therapy, encouraged increased speech production and promoted vocabulary development.”  Many speech, language and cognitive treatment goals can be incorporated in aquatic therapy along with respiratory, coordination and pushing exercises that support areas including voice production, motor speech abilities and swallowing function.

Occupational therapy allows children to practice skills needed for participation in daily occupations such as play and learning activities.  “Offering aquatic therapy to many of our patients motivates and stimulates fun acquisition of skills.  In occupational therapy, we can work on eye-hand coordination and strengthening by scooping water and squeezing toys,” Martha Pagnillo, occupational therapist, said. 

With her physical therapy patients, Goicoechea has noticed it has helped decrease muscle tone in patients with hypertonia, a condition in which there is too much muscle tone and the arms or legs are stiff and difficult to move.  “The patients are very motivated to participate in balance, gait, stretching and strengthening exercises because this is a new and challenging environment for them,” she explained.

"The biggest and most surprising benefit of aquatic therapy is how excited the kids are to be in the water,” Goicoechea said.  “It’s new, different and fun.  They get to feel like they are not in therapy by participating in an activity that their peers without developmental issues would also participate in.”

Many activities performed in the pool are the same ones used in traditional therapy at the South Florida Baptist Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation Center.  “The water environment is a very comfortable, relaxing, non-threatening situation for the kids,” Davenport added.

Aquatic therapy may not be appropriate for all patients, depending upon their diagnosis.  Children with hemiplegia, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and other neurological conditions generally respond well to pool-based therapy.  “We’re hoping to expand the program to include the adult population with neurologic and orthopedic diseases,” Goicoechea said.

Because of Florida’s unpredictable summer storms, sometimes the sessions are rained out. “Usually early mornings are clear and beautiful, and the temperature is just right,” according to Goicoechea. The water temperature needs to be at least 80 degrees but typically has been running 88 to 90 degrees. “We’re hoping to continue using the pool through September, maybe October.”

For more information about South Florida Baptist Hospital’s aquatic therapy program, call 813-707-9362.

About South Florida Baptist Hospital

Since 1953, South Florida Baptist Hospital has served Plant City and surrounding areas as a not-for-profit community hospital.  The progressive, 147-bed acute care facility offers a full range of diagnostic, rehabilitative, surgical, therapeutic and women’s services, including obstetrics.  South Florida Baptist Hospital is part of the BayCare Health System, a family of health care providers consisting of the 14 leading not-for-profit hospitals in the Tampa Bay region.

About BayCare Health System

BayCare is a leading not-for-profit health care system that connects individuals and families to a wide range of services at 14 hospitals and hundreds of other convenient locations throughout the Tampa Bay and central Florida regions. Inpatient and outpatient services include acute care, primary care, imaging, laboratory, behavioral health, home care, and wellness. Our mission is to improve the health of all we serve through community-owned, health care services that set the standard for high-quality, compassionate care.

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