Photography by Chris Wheeler (Great Divide Pictures)
MIRACLES ON MAIN STREET- The Power of Connections
-Chris Wheeler has been chronicling downtown businesses affected by COVD-19 since late March.
When people think of downtown Louisville, what often comes to mind are its great restaurants, boutiques and shops. But our downtown is so much more than a dining, shopping and entertainment district. Every now and then, we need to be reminded about the diversity of business located in our charming town center. In downtown Louisville, critical and sometimes life changing work is being done every day.
This particular story is about connections. Connections between patient and caregiver. Caregiver and community.
Katie Morrell is all about connections. The Boulder native offices at Louisville Family Center - one of those under the radar downtown businesses that is integral to the community we all love. Katie is an Anat Baniel Method (ABM) NeuroMovement practitioner who specializes in children with special needs. In laymen’s terms, ABM is a learning-based method that uses gentle and deliberate movements to connect body to brain. Her patients range from children with brain trauma injuries to adults crippled by back, neck and joint pain. “I connect with patients and start moving with them,” Katie says. “We do a little dance together,” Katie says. The ‘dance’ makes neural connections that awaken the brain.
Katie’s journey to being an ABM practitioner began nine years ago with the birth of her daughter. Not long after her birth, Avery was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. While she treats people of all ages, Katie specializes in children with special needs. “What I do as a practitioner, is not try to fix your child, but connect with them,” says Katie. “In this, lies the miracles.”
Breanna Stewart, a young mother from Denver, has been searching for a miracle. In March 2019, Breanna gave birth to twin girls, Selah and Cora. Selah did not survive. Nineteen weeks into the pregnancy, she stopped breathing. Selah’s twin sister Cora survived but with complications. “At some point in my pregnancy there was trauma, and not enough blood got to Cora’s brain,” remembers Breanna. The left hemisphere of Cora’s brain, which controls the right side of her body, is underdeveloped. Medically, it is called “gross motor delay.” Cora’s nerves are not making the proper connections to her brain. At fifteen months, she still cannot crawl or walk. She can sit, but not without help.
Despite seeing a number of specialists, Breanna struggled to find the best way to treat Cora’s condition. “It felt like there was something we were missing,” she said. Breanna searched for help on an online support group for children with special needs. “I kept hearing Katie’s name,” she said.
Soon the connection with ABM practitioner Katie Morrell was made. For nearly half her young life, Cora and mother Breanna have been making the journey from Denver to Louisville to feel Katie’s healing touch.
Cora’s first session with Katie was a sign that her mother had found the right person. The toddler’s right hand had been clenched tight for weeks. Katie began to gently ‘dance’ with Cora. In just a few minutes, Cora’s right hand relaxed and slowly opened – sort of like a flower responding to the warmth of the sun. “I connected with her,’ remembered Katie. For Breanna, that connection was nothing short of a miracle. “It was amazing,” she said. “I cried, of course.”
Katie was moved, but not surprised. She believes in the power of ABM. “Every time a child does something new, I get chills,” she said. “But I expect it.”
What Katie – or anyone for that matter – could not expect was the life-altering effects COVID-19 would have on her life and business. On March 12, Governor Polis ordered all non-essential businesses shut down immediately. Katie’s business fell into that category and was forced to close immediately. She not only lost critical revenue but more importantly, lost connections with her patients, including young Cora Stewart.
The timing of the government shutdown could not have been worse for 15-month old Cora. Birth to three years is the critical stage for children to develop motor skills. Because of the pandemic, Cora missed more than two months of ABM therapy with Katie. Each missed session has potential consequences. “Katie’s therapy felt ‘essential to us,” Breanna said. “There was a lot of anxiety caused by Cora not getting the care she needed. It was frustrating because we were making such good progress.”
While other businesses in downtown Louisville were able to adapt to the reality of the government ordered shutdown, Katie’s business could not. “ At its core, ABM is about ‘touch.’ “There is no substitution for looking someone in the eyes, for feeling the warmth of our bodies, for our hands touching,” Katie said. “This therapy cannot be delivered by Telehealth.”
The shutdown left Katie with a feeling of helplessness. “I want to be able to serve my patients,” Katie recalled. “I was afraid I would lose my client base.” This fear was compounded by genuine concern that she would lose her office space in downtown Louisville.
During the two month shutdown, that connection may have been interrupted – but it was not broken. In late May, Katie was allowed to reopen her office at Louisville Family Center. All of her patients began to return – including 15-month old Cora Stewart. Since that first, memorable visit, Cora has been responding to Katie’s ABM treatment. “She getting up on her hands and knees,” said mother Breanna. “Her sitting is improving. She’s babbling. These are things she was not doing before.”
Like other patients, Breanna and Cora have now become part of Katie’s family. “Katie cares and connects with us,” said Breanna. “She has empathy for our struggles. She has walked down that road.” Katie understands just how difficult that road can be. “We share the bond of being parents to special needs children,” says Katie.
As patients have bonded with Katie, Katie has bonded with downtown Louisville. “When it came to office space, I did not want a sterile, typical medical space. I was looking for something different,” said Katie. “When I found this place on Main Street, it spoke to me.” For Katie, the vibe of downtown Louisville is part of the therapy. “I can look outside and see families strolling by, people walking their dogs, riding bikes,” Katie says. “Louisville is all about family. This place radiates love.”
But like other downtown businesses, the cloud of coronavirus hangs over Katie’s business. Losing two months revenue is a blow that will be difficult to overcome. Katie is concerned about another shutdown and the impact it could have on her business. “I am hoping and praying it does not happen,” she says.
In the meantime, our community is doing what it can to help Katie’s small business. Two weeks ago, Katie became the first recipient of a grant from LouisvilleRising.org. The non-profit organizes fundraising events like “The Front Porch Concert Series” to assist businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. For Katie, the grant means one thing: “I can now pay next month’s rent.”
Katie hopes to keep her connection to downtown Louisville. Her practice at Louisville Family Center is more than a place of business. It is a place of family and community . Most importantly it is a place of healing. Her story is a touching reminder of the power of connections.
Three days after Cora’s last visit, another miracle occurred. For the first time in her young life, Cora was able to sit on her own. It was emotional breakthrough for daughter and mother. “This is huge progress,” said Breanna. “I know this happened through the work of Katie connecting with Cora!”