A child’s battle
Halia Strickland is a vivacious 10-year-old who’s not afraid to tell you her opinion, especially when it comes to medicine.
“Awful!” she says, when discussing the chemotherapy or the many pills she’s had to take in the last five years.
Elena Strickland, Halia’s mother, said up until four years ago, she was a very healthy child. However, in August of 2009, when Halia was 6, her fingertips turned blue, a condition called Raynauds’ syndrome.
“We took her to her pediatrician, and he didn’t know what was causing it. He started her on steroids but a couple of months later, her fingertips became necrotic and they fell off,” said Elena.
After taking Halia to numerous physicians and spending several weeks at the Medical College of Georgia facility in Augusta, she was ultimately diagnosed with Schleroderma, a chronic disease; its most visible symptom is hardening of the skin.
“The disease is progressive, and as her skin hardened, it was drawing up her arms and legs. She has to have therapy so she can move and stretch,” Elena said. “If she didn’t have therapy, she’d get much worse and her skin would get tighter.”
The aqua therapy in the pool is Halia’s favorite part as she said it feels good and relaxes her and she loves the staff at Innovative Rehab.
Halia’s father, Michael, said she has been to several therapists, but Mohanty has been the best for her and the family owes him a great deal.
“The water therapy really helps her, and even when Medicaid said they were going to reduce the number of visits she was allowed, he kept treating her because he really cares about her well being,” Michael said.
Elena said other therapists were much rougher on Halia but Mohanty is very gentle.
“She’s never been uncomfortable coming here, even when she’s hurting,” Elena said. "He does what she needs and will benefit her, not just what Medicaid will pay for.”
Scleroderma is a lifelong condition but she could stabilize, get worse or get better. According to her mother, Halia has a 5 percent chance that it could go away completely.
Michael and Elena are homeschooling Halia and her sister, Katie, 11. Both are at the sixth-grade level as Halia skipped the fifth grade. Both parents work and share homeschooling duties, with Michael smiling and referring to Elena as the “principal.”
She has been so inspired by Bikram Mohanty and the work he’s done with Halia that Elena has decided to continue her education and become an occupational therapist, too. He recommended her to a program in Atlanta where she will attend master’s level classes every other weekend so she can be home with her family.
One of the most challenging aspects of the disease is that Halia has a difficult time gaining weight.
“She’s gotten taller but she weighs less than she did several years ago. She can eat anything and we encourage her to eat whatever she wants.”
Halia’s preference? “Anything with sugar in it!” And her favorite food? “Cookie dough or cookies and cream ice cream.”