When I first see six-year-old Bradley being lifted out of his mom’s car and helped across the driveway towards the riding arena, it’s hard to believe that he is a kid who had spent almost the first 18 months of his life stuffed into a cardboard box in a trash-filled alleyway in Guatemala.
His teenage birth mother would leave him there alone for several hours a day while she was out trying to earn money to feed them both. Had Bradley remained in his native country, it’s fairly certain he would not have survived another few months.
“My husband Donald and I were looking for a child to adopt,” says Tanis, his new mother. “We heard there was this little boy in Guatemala that needed a mom and dad. We flew down and saw him and decided right away to adopt him. We had no idea then that he had cerebral palsy,” she adds.
It’s pretty obvious that Bradley and his adoptive mother are not genetically related. He’s tan-skinned and dark-eyed with straight jet-black hair. His mother has a pale, almost Scandinavian complexion, clear blue eyes and curly blond hair.
“We have three other natural-born children,” Tanis says. “ One is 13, one is 16 and one is 19.” She laughs. “ I guess I just love being a mom.”
With quiet pride, Tanis tells me, today, in spite of his handicap, Bradley can drive a golf ball a remarkable 50 yards or more. He’s in the top third of his class in school – and he can ride a horse without holding onto the saddle.
That’s why Bradley’s here today at the Greenlock Therapeutic Riding Center in Rehoboth. Just like so many other kids with disabilities, 30 minutes once a week on a horse’s back has had surprisingly positive effects.
As I watch him being led around the arena, astride a gentle Arabian chestnut horse named Toby (with a therapist on one side and a side-walker on the other), it’s clear Bradley is straining to sit up straight. He still has some difficulty with his hand-to-eye coordination and some balance problems to work through. Tanis points out that he “falls a lot less now that he’s been riding.”
Bradley wears plastic leg braces under his riding jeans. He tends to sway slightly when he finally dis- mounts and is helped back to the family car. It wasn’t until he was two-and-a-half that Bradley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, almost a year after he’d been adopted and taken here from Guatemala.
“Two different doctors told us he was just delayed,” Tanis says while gently shaking her head. She’s still slightly incredulous that both doctors could have missed Bradley’s condition since a third physician spotted the problem immediately.
It was a therapist at school who suggested that Bradley try “hippo-therapy”, a form of treatment that was used in ancient Greece to rehab soldiers injured in battle. Among other things, a horse’s movement replicates the motion of a human’s walking stride.
“Bradley adapted to riding a horse very quickly and we’ve noticed since he’s been riding, his balance is improving,” Tanis says. “Our doctor is convinced it’s working.”
Bradley’s parents have never told him he has CP, but recently he caught them by surprise with a challenging question: “Mom, if you’d known I had cerebral palsy when you came to get me, would you have still taken me home with you?”
Stunned, Tanis hugged Bradley and said, “Why, of course we would have.” She smiles again. “Once we’d seen him, we knew he was meant to be our child. And you know,” says Tanis, “people always say how lucky Bradley is that we found him... but really, we’re the lucky ones.”