Child diagnosed with torticollis at three months has dramatic improvement after participating in Infant Swimming Resource program at Hockessin Athletic Club

When Kelley Ferris first took her infant daughter Erin to the Hockessin Athletic Club for their Infant Swimming Resource program, she didn’t expect a miracle.

Erin had been diagnosed at three months with torticollis – a condition characterized by an asymmetrical head and neck position.

She’d started physical therapy immediately and was progressing, but had “leveled out” by the fifth month, Ferris said.

A month later Erin started the ISR program, a dynamic survival class for infants and toddlers that teaches them the physical skills to float and swim in open waters for prolonged stretches.

The program relies on a combination of motion and instinct, teaching them to move and turn in ways that ultimately increases their core strength while also instilling basic water safety skills.

Within the first two weeks, Ferris said she noticed a difference in Erin.

“She really started to blossom,” she said. “She stopped favoring her dominant side, which is a big symptom of torticollis. Her alignment became amazing, but her core strength was what was most impressive.”

Ferris said that when she was in the water, Erin turned towards both sides when prompted, and not just towards her left or more dominant side.

“And then she started not favoring a side at home. In bed, or sitting up or whatever, she’d stopped turning her head to the one side,” Ferris said.

By 10 months Erin was in the 98th percentile for her age group; just a few weeks past her first birthday and she is hitting all the normal milestones that her sister Riley did at the same age, including being almost ready to walk.

She was even discharged early from her physical therapy program at A.I. duPont Children’s Hospital – something that Ferris said is uncommon.

“They usually want to see the child through a few milestones before then,” she said. “But she did so well so fast, she was out at 11 months.”

Ferris said she felt completely indebted to the ISR program, and to Erin’s instructors at HAC, adding that she has broken down into tears of gratitude and happiness many times in the past few months.

“As soon as I found out she’d been discharged, I came back here (to HAC) and said, ‘you guys have changed our lives forever,’” Ferris said. “Here’s a kid that was slated to be different for the rest of her life - her head could be misshapen, her spinal alignment would be off. But all of those things are non-existent now, because of her core strength. So it’s not only saving their lives around the water, it’s improving their quality of life.”

When she was approached by Erin’s physical therapist at duPont for a contact at HAC for the infant program, to potentially work with other patients in the future, Ferris said she overwhelmed with emotion.

“My kid could have possibly changed or improved the quality of life for other kids with torticollis in the future, and that’s just incredible,” she said.

Nadya Davis, aquatic director and an instructor at HAC, said that she had never witnessed anything like Erin’s case in her two years with the ISR program.

“It gives us purpose and passion to know that we are allowed to come to work every day and serve the families that we get close to and really impact their lives,” she said. “And, in Erin’s case, really change their life.”

The ISR program was founded in 1966 by Dr. Harvey Barnett, who was then a lifeguard in Miami.

Barnett was inspired to start the program after witnessing the tragic drowning death of an infant in 1966.

“I looked at the situation and said whatever I have to do to never see something like that again, I’ll do that,” he said.

Barnett said that dealing with six-month-old infants creates in them a skillset that becomes instinctual and that they will not forget – unlike a parent who may forget to lock a pool gate, or a babysitter who may turn their back too long.

“Once an infant is shown how to get to the air, they will do anything possible to get to that air,” he said.

Joann Barnett, President and CEO of Infant Swimming Resource, said that hearing stories like Erin’s is a rewarding experience.

“It’s always great when a parent calls you up and says, ‘I didn’t know you could instill a work ethic in a 13-month-old,’ but that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “So the confidence they take away from it is life-changing as well – not as measurable as (Erin), but it’s hard to measure self-esteem when you’re 18- or 20-months-old.”