Jesielle Tackles Every Challenge
Michelle Lopez works on finger dexterity with Jesielle.
Tiny yet tenacious, Jesielle Rivera has accomplished more in three years of therapy than his parents ever dreamed possible.
The 7-year-old started receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy at UCP of Central Florida as an out-patient and now attends first grade at UCP Osceola Charter School where he receives therapy two days a week.
“He has made incredible improvements,” said Michelle Lopez, Therapy Clinical Coordinator at UCP Osceola. “He came to us like a baby three years ago. He couldn’t walk or talk and was completely dependent on his parents.”
Through exercise and hard work, Jesielle learned to crawl, use a walker, then crutches and now walks by holding on to his therapists’ fingers for balance. Lopez spent countless hours working on repetitive daily living tasks so Jesielle could be more independent at school, home, and his community. Currently, he is starting to speak in English and Spanish (primary language at home).
The first grader was diagnosed at age 2 with mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic condition that occurs when the mitochondria are unable to burn food and oxygen to generate energy. The disease causes developmental delays, slow growth, muscle weakness, fatigue and vision and hearing problems.
While there is no cure, therapy helps manage his symptoms. Jesielle tackles every obstacle with grit and determination. Whether its developing fine motor skills by cutting with scissors or climbing stairs to build muscle strength, Jesielle completes every assignment with a wide grin and a high five for his therapist.
At about half the size of an average 7-year-old, Jesielle must work harder to keep up with his classmates but this has been an incredible motivator, according to his mother.
“We’ve been surprised by his progress,” said his mother, Giselle Rivera. “The therapy program at UCP has been amazing. It has boosted Jesielle’s confidence and given him independence. He has made so many friends and learned so much from the typical kids in his class.”
Jesielle’s class includes children of all abilities. Each of UCP’s elementary schools offer inclusive classrooms where about half the students have special needs and the other half don’t.
Studies have proven that inclusion changes preconceptions about learning and cultivates kindness. Students without disabilities benefit socially by learning tolerance, compassion and acceptance of differences, while also growing academically through collaboration and immersive projects. Students with special needs learn the same curriculum and show improvements in academics, social skills and self-esteem.
Jesielle will continue therapy at school and during the summer at UCP to make him as independent as possible, despite his challenges. His therapists believe he will walk on his own soon.
UCP’s team of 115+ physical, occupational and speech therapy providers design personalized activities tailored to each child’s individual abilities. Services are offered at UCP’s seven campuses for students, out-patients, and summer therapy clients. For more information on UCP therapy services, go to: https://www.ucpcfl.org/therapy.