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Jun 14, 2021

Against all odds: “Mini But Mighty” Kada brings spirt and joy to Rock Valley’s Cedarwood clinic.

It is half-past 12 on a glorious, sun-kissed June Wednesday.

 An always-bustling Cedarwood clinic, Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Muscatine, Iowa-based outlet, is — for but a moment —  calm.

The storm, an adorable 20-month, melt-your-heart tornado of all that is amazing with the world, is about to roll in.

It will be an entrance to trump all entrances.

There will be tears.

There will be hugs.

And there will be smiles, let us not forget the smiles. Too many to count.

Quickly, the room is filled with therapists and ever-cordial front-office folks, all doning  ” Kada: “Mini But Mighty,’’ T-shirts, in honor of the toughest — albeit adorable — 20-month-old west of the Mississippi.

 East of the Mississippi, too…

Kada Helsley, with her signature “hi,’’ and a single bat of her gorgeous brown eyes, has captured the hearts of Cedarwood, including therapists, patients and onlookers.

“She is pretty special,’’ Amy Collins (DPT, Level 1 Phyiscal Therapist), an upbeat and energetic sort, who for the past seven months has been Kada’s therapist, spending 45 minutes twice weekly improving the life of what is an amazing — and determined —  little girl.

“She inspires us,’’ added Collins, a 24-karat gem, who joined the Rock Valley family a year ago. “Patients and therapists alike stop when Kada is in the building. She has captured our hearts. Making a difference in her life and the lives of all our patients is why I — and our other therapists — do what we do. But Kada is extra special to us all.’’

In mid-sentence, Collins is stopped.

Pushing a pink plastic sports car with lavender trim and seat, Kada Helsley — with her ever-patient, always-encouraging father, Zayne, close behind, arrives. There is a collective and upbeat  gasp from patients, office staff and from therapists. It is a jaw-dropping sight for first-timers to the Kada show, a normal reaction for those who have come to know and love the Helsley family.

 On a scale of 1 to 10 in the “One-Person Parade’’ category, Kada’s entrance is a 12.

“Man, we love her,’’ said Scott Morel (Performance Enhancement Specialist), who helped guide Zayne Helsley and his wife, Eliasabeth, through their athletic journeys while students at Muscatine (Iowa) High School. “Such determination, that’s Kada. She can turn a dark day bright, I tell ya.’’

Even as Kada pushes the sports car into the side of an exercise bike, she draws oohs and ahhs from those gathered. The charming youngster, a battler of the highest degree, is unharmed as she soaks up the attention.

First glance, though, does not tell the story of Kada Helsley. Life, it must be noted, has been a struggle. It’s why so many marvel at her.

Though you cannot tell by her positive nature and the upbeat —  today-is.-a-great-day approach by her father —  but Kada has fought one life-threatening challenge after another just to see and experience such a gorgeous day.

Born with Cartilage-hair hypoplasia (CHH), a disorder of bone growth characterized by short stature (dwarfism) with other skeletal abnormalities; fine, sparse hair (hypotrichosis); and abnormal immune system function (immune deficiency) that can lead to recurrent infections, life has been a series of challenges for Kada. Her case of CHH is so rare that answers — save for a trip to St. Louis to see one expert — have been hard to come by.

Among many struggles, Kada was forced to undergo a life-saving bone-marrow transplant and endure months of chemotherapy. She must rely on a feeding tube and has a permanent port just below her neckline for medications. She has endured lengthy hospital stays and six major surgeries along her path.

Yet she stands, energetic as ever, melting hearts with every step.

“Kada is doing really well right now,’’ Zayne Helsley said. “She just got her weight back up to 15 pounds after losing a pound which is a big deal. My wife is amazing, always working to understand what we are dealing with and always working to make sure Kada and our older daughter, Kora, have what they need. I’m in awe of “Lissa,’’ and she is always trying to find out more about what might be next for Kada. And Kora, what a great big sister. She was the bone-marrow donor and does an amazing job of looking after Kada. So many infusions, so many surgeries. They told us at 20 weeks Kada might not survive and there have been a lot of ups and downs, but things are good.’’

One of life’s truly good souls, Zayne Helsley has high praise for Collins and the entire Rock Valley family. He points out that when Kada arrived early in 2021 to the Cedarwood clinic, she was limited to sitting up. Movement of any kind was a struggle.

And then Collins went to work. And staff and therapists would always find time the past seven months to make time to encourage Kada along the way.

Today she can stand — while holding on to an object. She pulls herself up, bear crawls with the best, and has seen huge gains in strength and mobility. While not every day is a ray of sunshine, life for Kada is so much better since the Helsely’s found Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

Same goes for the Cedarwood clinic finding Kada.

“Therapy has been amazing,’’’ Zayne Helsley said. “And it’s been great for our family. Amy and Kada have a tremendous bond — a trust — and Amy has done so many wonderful things to make life better for Kada. There are days when Kada struggles, but there are not many. She loves being here and everyone here has embraced Kada. That’s something we are grateful for. Therapy with Amy has made a huge difference.’’

While great strides have been made and Collins and Kada are a tremendous team, Collins says it is vital to understand the great work that goes on at home when discussing Kada’s progress.

“We’ll  do something and then make a recommendation for a particular exercise that can be done at home and everyone at home has Kada doing it,’’ Collins said. “Immediately. It’s a testament to her family with the strides she has made. I believe therapy has been great for her, but to have the support Kada has at home has been tremendous.’’

The future for Kada is a bit of a mystery as the Helseys — and doctors — continue to learn and map a plan of attack for her life. Collins says a day will come soon to discharge Kada, but does not mean she will stop monitoring her progress.

“We will be here for her and for her parents and Kora,’’ Collins says of the Helseys. “But that day when Kada can work on other areas is coming. It has been an amazing experience for all of us. She has worked so hard and overcome so much you know she will fight to get better. What we do is bettering lives and establishing relationships and that’s been the situation with Kada. Plus, she stole our hearts as well. We want her better, but we will be here if and when she needs us. I’m better for having worked with Kada and her family.’’

Same goes for Kada and Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller