Mikal the miracle boy
Fourteen-year-old Mikal Hodne Hageberg was condemned to a life in a wheelchair and interacting with others via a communication board. Last year he conquered Mount Ulriken – on foot.
We are meeting Mikal after a training session at the Barnas Fysioterapisenter. His school is having a planning day, and Mikal has just finished one of his two weekly sessions at the physiotherapy centre. He usually attends the sessions when his classmates in year 9 have PE. “That way I don’t miss other classes that I really want to go to,” Mikal explains, adding that science is his favourite subject.
Because of complications at birth, Mikal suffered a brain injury. At six months he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. There is no cure for this diagnosis, but physiotherapy is often part of the treatment. Mikal’s parents discovered Barnas Fysioterapisenter by chance. “We were tipped off by a municipal physiotherapist. Luckily for us, they had a cancellation which allowed Mikal to start going soon after,” says Mikal’s mother Anne Berit Hodne. Mikal has been training at the centre ever since he was about seven months old. “In the beginning it really ruled our lives, and we would train with him several times a day”, Hodne explains. Their efforts would prove to be fruitful. Only a few months in, Mikal was able to turn over from his back to his tummy, and soon after he was able to crawl. Now he can walk.
The intensive training described by his mother is at the heart of the therapies offered by Barnas Fysioterapisenter. Ever since it was established in 1998 by Jannike Rieber as the first of its kind in Norway, the centre has been offering intensive motor skills training to children aged between 0 and 18 with conditions such as cerebral palsy. An intensive period lasts three months and involves several hours of training a day. This allows the children to make much more rapid progress than they would with only a weekly session, say.
The training takes place individually and in groups. The parents accompany their children during the intensive periods. Play and fun form a natural part of the sessions, although tough physical and motor skills training makes up the core of the programme. The sheer volume of training undertaken by many of the patients is equivalent to that of an elite athlete. The guiding principle of the centre is to give everyone a chance to reach their full potential. Mikal, who has become something of a veteran at the centre, is keeping busy in his free time as well. He usually enjoys short walks and bike rides, but a rather hairy new year’s resolution led him to conquer Mount Ulriken by foot on 28 June 2019. “I had two new year’s resolutions last year. One was to eat more fruit and the other to walk to the top of Mount Ulriken. I only succeeded with one of them,” Mikal says with a smile.
You could be forgiven for thinking that for someone who used to be unable to walk, it would be far easier to eat an extra apple a day than to climb to the top of Mount Ulriken. However, Mikal is not one to choose the path of least resistance. He, his family and the physios at Barnas Fysioterapisenter have continued to challenge his diagnosis and future prospects, even though it has taken its toll both physically and mentally “He’s also equipped with a well developed competitive instinct,” adds mum Anne Berit.
Months of dogged staircase training and gradually longer trips would prepare the 14-year-old for the big adventure to the top of Bergen’s highest mountain. On his team were his two regular training partners, physiotherapists Celine Christensen and Kristel Engeset. They have been working with Mikal for the past few years and were immediately up for the trip. Together with dad Håkon Hageberg, they were obvious tour companions on the big day.
Mikal used an electric wheelchair for the first leg of the trip before ditching it long before they hit the first staircase. Dad Håkon returned the wheelchair to the car and took the cable railway to the top to wait for the climbers. He had been expecting to wait a while but had barely sat down when Mikal appeared over the edge. Mikal spent 90 minutes completing the ascent.
He does not seem surprised at the success of the mission. It is clear that the training he has undertaken at the centre has enabled him to set himself goals and then achieve them. Although the road to the goal is longer for Mikal than for many other people, the reward of reaching it is all the greater. When mum Anne Berit is asked about what Barnas Fysioterapisenter has meant to the family, she is in no doubt: “It has been a blessing both for Mikal and for us as a family. We had been in a very different place both physically and mentally if it weren’t for this service.”
Before we leave we ask Mikal whether he has any new year’s resolutions for 2020. The answer is instantaneous: “I’ll be walking from Mount Fløyen to Rundemanen!”