The Doña Carmela Early Childhood Education School, in the municipality of El Paso, has become a physiotherapy center for children and professionals who are on the front line of the La Palma volcano. Colorful mats and stretchers decorate one of the classrooms. There is Nancy Arrocha with her son. The boy is ten years old and has cerebral palsy. Every few months they must travel to Tenerife’s Hospital Universitario de Canarias (HUC) for the minor to receive treatment, but the eruption has paralyzed their lives. They are residents of the Tajuya neighborhood and for four days they had to be evicted from their home. “He had his routine of going to the physiotherapist, to the pool… and as the days went by he has become stressed and has become very rigid. When there are very loud roars from the volcano, I try to talk to him so he doesn’t get so scared, ”says Nancy.
Solidarity physiotherapy for children affected by the La Palma volcano
In order to alleviate the effects that the eruption has generated in children with special needs, a multidisciplinary team made up of physiotherapists, assistants and a social worker has traveled to the island from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Professionals from the Institute of Neurological and Traumatological Reeducation (Irenet) landed this Friday on La Palma. There they will work until this Sunday on a voluntary basis with at least fifteen minors with rare, neurological diseases, Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder. The children belong to the Special Children Association of La Palma (NEP), located in the Jedey neighborhood and isolated by lava flows. Therefore, they have not received their sessions for almost 15 days.
“As we cannot do anything against nature, we decided to start a campaign to collect clothing and personal hygiene items,” explains Irenet’s head, Víctor Santana. Two weeks later, together with the NEP Association, they have decided to go further and offer rehabilitation to children who have seen their treatment suspended. Without their regular physical therapy sessions, children are “tighter and stiffer.” “Their routine has changed. They don’t go to school, they don’t go to the pool, and they hear their family talking about the volcano every day, ”Santana emphasizes.
Some of the methods to treat minors in the context of the eruption are to mobilize the muscles, relax the posture and work the respiratory system in the face of the ashfall and the secretion problems that some of the children present. Another challenge this emergency has presented is offering emotional support to families. “Within the misfortune, they are comforted to see their children receiving treatment. We want to lend a hand in what we can ”, says Víctor Santana.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need an environment “structured and predictable,” explains psychologist Begoña Domínguez. Noises, sounds and unforeseen changes have a “huge” impact on your health. “Not all suffer the same consequences, but the reaction of many of the children with ASD is to scream, to try to get away from the place that causes them insecurity or to close their eyes as if that gesture could keep them away from the noise”, details Domínguez.
” During the eruption everything is unpredictable, everything is new. There is a lot of movement of people, the neighbors scream, the volcano roars, and all this affects them emotionally, ” he adds. Living in this context can also have consequences on the physical and emotional health of family members.
Overcoming the catastrophe to help your neighbors
In other towns close to the eruption, La Palma toilets have tried to overcome the catastrophe to serve their neighbors. At least 17 physiotherapy centers in different parts of the island, such as Los Llanos de Aridane, Santa Cruz de La Palma, El Paso and Breña Alta, have formed a network of collaborating clinics that assist people who have lost their homes for free , as well as agents of the National Police, the Civil Guard or volunteers who remain from the first minute in the front line of fire.
“We have patients who have trusted us before. Now they are in a bad situation and we have to help them, ” insists Cecilia Acosta Pérez, the island delegate of the Official College of Physiotherapists of the Canary Islands (COFC). She works at a center that survives three kilometers from the main cone of the eruption. From the window of the clinic you can see how the new volcano on La Palma does not stop spitting lava and adds more and more mouths. “We are continually listening to the roar of the volcano, but we have to try to focus on helping the person on the stretcher, ” he says.
According to Acosta, psychology and physical therapy must go hand in hand in this slow and difficult recovery process. “It is a chain. Your mind is always thinking the same thing. You do not rest well and by not resting, your body does not perform the same and tensions begin to be created. It is not a job that must be done individually, but through a multidisciplinary team ”.
In the case of the people who were evicted and temporarily installed in the military barracks of El Fuerte, there was also the discomfort of sleeping on military beds. “It is not the same to sleep on your mattress than on a folding bed or on the floor of a relative’s apartment,” says Cecilia Acosta.
Many of these professionals have crops, livestock and properties of their own or that of relatives that have been threatened by the lava. Some have even closed their rehab centers for days to sweep ash from their loved ones’ homes or help save belongings. But now his priority is to improve the physical and mental health of the palm trees. ” We have a need to do something. We can even go home if someone needs it, but we don’t want to bother. This is something that we have all suffered and that affects us as a whole. If you need it, we are here. ”