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ALL-Stars at the Tandy Family YMCA

OU ALL-Stars at the Tandy Family YMCA

Hearing a child laugh is good for the soul. It’s a true and honest expression of joy and happiness and it is wonderfully contagious. Laughter is the cornerstone of one of the Tandy Y’s newest programs, the ALL-Stars, which is in its fourth month.
The ALL-Stars is a weekly fitness and wellness program for children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), which is the most common form of pediatric cancer, affecting the bone marrow and blood cells, which results in weakness, fatigue, and decreased physical function. The program began as a conversation between two longstanding Y members: Dr. Ken Randall, a physical therapist and faculty member at OU-Tulsa, and Dr. Greg Kirkpatrick, a pediatric oncologist at the St. Jude affiliate clinic at St. Francis Children’s Hospital. Established in collaboration with the Tandy Y, ALL-Stars uses physical activity and social support to reduce the challenges of weight gain, loss of coordination and strength, and depression that commonly arise during the two-to-three-year course of treatment for leukemia. A key program element is integrating family members and the child’s best friend into the program to move the focus from the child having cancer to the normalizing activity of gaining fitness through exercise, activity, and simply having fun.
Student physical therapists and occupational therapists from OU-Tulsa volunteer their time with Dr. Randall and his colleague Dr. Jessica Tsotsoros to develop and implement each week’s program for the ALL-Stars. Activities range from yoga to kickboxing to water volleyball to learning about nutrition and preparing meals with super foods in the Tandy Family YMCA's Healthy Table Nutrition Kitchen. Including the child’s best friend and family members brings a sense of familiarity and comfort to the program and working with college students provides an element of novelty and excitement.

When each of these individuals come together at the Tandy Y for the weekly ALL-Stars session, the outcome is fitness and wellness, with a healthy dose of laughter.
Dr. Randall shares a reflection on his recent observations of this program:

G. is 14 years old and was diagnosed with ALL when she was 12.  She lost her hair during chemo, but it has started to grow back: At present she looks as though she has a pixie haircut. The puffiness in her cheeks is a residual effect of the steroids that she was taking, which make her look a bit younger than her age and which also enhances her infectious smile. With her recent growth spurt, she is just barely under being categorized as obese. G’s dad brings her and her best friend, M., to the OU ALL-Stars program every week. As part of the research study that is embedded in the program, she and M have measurements taken that include (among many others) height, weight, strength, and physical activity. 
Before starting a recent week’s activity (pool volleyball), one of the Doctor of Physical Therapy students is measuring her strength with a digital pressure gauge. M is being weighed by another student. G’s dad is off to the side, watching.
G is sitting on the edge of the table as the 23-year old DPT student applies the pressure gauge to her leg and asks her to push as hard as she can so that he can measure her quad strength. G says “you better hold on!” and then looks across the room at M, who is about to get on the scales. Their eyes lock- they both glance at the oblivious DPT student and then back at each other, exchanging a look that is universal to all teens who’ve ever had a crush on someone a bit older than them, and burst into laughter. G’s dad rolls his eyes.
There is nothing more normalizing than laughter. Or sharing an inside joke with your best friend. Or having your doting father in on the laugh.
The OU ALL-Stars was created for children like G. And like the eight others who are currently enrolled in the program, and who come to the Tandy Y every week for things such as playing water volleyball with their families and best friends. This program is changing their lives.